April 18 (Bloomberg) -- New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific nation to legalize same-sex marriage, prompting cheers and singing in the same parliament where sexual relations between men were decriminalized 27 years ago.
The third and final reading of the Marriage Equality Bill was passed late yesterday 77 votes to 44. Lawmakers and members of the public applauded in the Wellington debating chamber when the result was heard, before singing “Pokarekare Ana”, a traditional Maori love song. Celebrations were held throughout the night in bars and clubs across the country.
New Zealand joins 12 other nations that allow same-sex marriage, including Canada, South Africa and Spain. Prime Minister John Key voted in favor of the law-change, after last May saying he wasn’t opposed to gay marriage, shortly after U.S. President Barack Obama voiced his support. Key had previously voted against civil unions, which New Zealand legalized in 2005.
“I am very proud to be a Member of a Parliament that has voted overwhelmingly to give New Zealanders, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender, the right to marry,” Louisa Wall, the main opposition Labour party member who introduced the bill last year, said in a statement.
The legislation amends 1955 laws to rule that all adults in New Zealand, including those identified as transgender or transsexual, can wed.
New Zealand decriminalized sexual relations between men aged 16 and over in 1986, while such activity between women was not illegal, the Ministry of Culture and Heritage said on its New Zealand History website. Seven years later, discriminating against people on the grounds of their sexual orientation was outlawed, the ministry said.
Supporters and opponents gathered in Wellington ahead of the vote. The first reading of the bill in August passed by 80 votes to 40, and the second in March by 77 votes to 44.
“I have had a reverend in my local electorate call and say that the gay onslaught will start the day after this bill is passed,” Maurice Williamson, Minister of Building and Construction, said in a debate before the vote. “We are really struggling to know what the gay onslaught will look like. We do not know whether it will come down the Pakuranga Highway as a series of troops, or whether it will be a gas that flows in over the electorate and blocks us all in.”
A New Zealand Herald Digipoll survey conducted last month showed 52 percent of respondents supported same-sex marriage while 48 percent were opposed. The poll surveyed 750 people and had a margin of error of 3.6 percent.
“What we have had is a small yet vocal minority telling the rest of New Zealanders that there is a law change that everyone wants, and anyone who disagrees has got to be a bigot,” Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, said in the pre-vote debate. He voted against the bill.
Gay marriage is also legal in Argentina, Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and Uruguay, as well as parts of the U.S. and Mexico City. The French Senate this month approved a bill allowing same-sex marriage, paving the way for it to become law later this year.
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