New Zealand passes same-sex marriage bill


New Zealand became the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage early on April 17.

Lawmakers voted 77-44 in favor of a marriage equality bill on its third and final reading.

The Associated Press reported that in one of several speeches that ended in a standing ovation, bill sponsor Louisa Wall said change was “our road toward healing.”

“In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal – it’s a declaration of love and commitment to a special person,” she said. She added that “nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill.”

Lawmakers from most political parties were encouraged by their leaders to vote as their conscience dictated rather than along party lines. Wall is from the opposition Labour Party, but the bill also was supported by center-right Prime Minister John Key.

“In my view, marriage is a very personal thing between two individuals,” Key said. “And, in the end, this is part of equality in modern-day New Zealand.”

New Zealand has allowed civil unions since 2005. The new law, which takes effect in late August, allows same-sex couples to jointly adopt children for the first time and also allows their marriages to be recognized in other countries.

Same-sex marriage is recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a law last week that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign. Nine states in the U.S. also allow same-sex couples to marry.

In his speech before the vote in New Zealand, lawmaker Tau Henare concluded with a traditional greeting in his indigenous Maori. “My message to you all is, `Welcome to the mainstream,'” Henare said. “Do well. Kia Ora.”

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