New Zealand passes same-sex marriage bill

(Photo: Reuters / Andres Stapff)People look on as Uruguay's Congress discussed a bill to allow same-sex marriages, making it the second country in predominantly Roman Catholic Latin America to do so April 10, 2013. Seventy-one of 92 lawmakers in the lower house of Congress voted in favor of the proposal, one week after the Senate passed it by a wide majority. Leftist President Jose Mujica, a former guerrilla fighter, is expected to sign the bill into law.

New Zealand has become the first Asia-Pacific nation to vote to legalize gay marriage, although the move does not have the backing of all the country's churches.

In a historic vote, 77 out of 121 members of Parliament voted Wednesday in favor of amending the Marriage Act of 1955 to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The legalization amends the Marriage Act so that two people - regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity - can marry

New Zealand was the world's first nation to give women the same voting rights as men in 1893, and becomes the 13th nation in the world to legalize marriage equality.

A week after Uruguay passed a same-sex marriage bill, lawmakers and visitors in the parliament's public gallery alike celebrated the occasion by breaking into the Maori love song, "Pokarekare Ana."

New Zealand has already recognized same-sex couples with civil unions since 2005, however the new law will allow gay couples to adopt children and be recognized as married couples in other countries.

The recent success has emboldened gay rights activists to look toward Australia as the next potential Asia-Pacific nation to legalize the institution for same-sex couples.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said, however, she opposes gay marriage and the same on same sex-marriage route as in New Zealand is not envisaged.

"I doubt we're going to end up agreeing, I'm sorry," Gillard told a gay marriage supporter in Melbourne the night after the New Zealand measure passed. Gillard, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, has repeatedly denied support to the cause.

Sarah Hanson-Young, an Australian senator and member of the Greens Party was quick to use the vote as an example meant to galvanize Australia.

"It's less than a three-hour flight to get to New Zealand. Australian couples are now lining up, booking their tickets, getting their weddings organized," she said to ABC television. "The sad thing is when they arrive back home, they are no longer going to be recognized."

Gay marriage is both a social issue barometer around the world, as well as a political lightning rod.

Radio New Zealand reported that Presbyterian and Anglican churches are considering their stance on marrying gay couples after the vote to legalize same sex marriage.

The Catholic Church is not reviewing its position.

The bill is expected to be in force by the end of August.

The Anglican Church, which has faced global division over the issue, says gay couples will not be able to marry in its churches until the General Synod meets in May, when it will consider the issue.

The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand said its position on marriage is that it is between a man and a woman.

However the church's moderator Rev. Ray Coster said it will have a clearer position when its General Assembly meets in October 2014.

New Zealand's Catholic Church has said it will not marry gay couples and is not reviewing that stance.

Under the Marriage Act, priests are not obliged to officiate at any marriage that would contravene Catholic beliefs.

One Presbyterian Church in New Zealand said it had received its first firm request to officiate at a same sex marriage from two Catholic women.

Margaret Mayman, the minister of St Andrews on The Terrace in Wellington, said individual parishes have freedom of belief on the issue and her church is going to conduct ceremonies

Last week, the French Senate and Lower House of Uruguay passed gay marriage bills.

New Zealand joins Canada, Spain, the Netherlands, South Africa, Iceland, Norway, Belgium, Argentina, Sweden, Portugal and Denmark as nations recognizing same-sex marriage.

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