N.Z. Set to Legalize Gay Marriage in Asia-Pacific First

New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific nation to legalize same-sex marriage after a parliament vote today, 27 years after sexual relations between men were decriminalized.

The third and final reading of the Marriage Equality Bill was passed 77 votes to 44. The legislation amends 1955 laws to rule that all adults in New Zealand, including those identified as transgender or transsexual, can marry.

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.

“A civil union is demeaning -- this idea that you will never be good enough, that your love is somehow less than or not as worthy,” Lynda Topp, a New Zealand entertainer who in March joined her same-sex partner in a civil union, said in an e-mailed statement. “Our marriage is as honest, loyal and committed as anyone’s and we should have the same rights as anyone else.”

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 Gather

Both 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, according to statements from Louisa Wall, the parliamentarian from the main opposition Labour Party who sponsored the bill.

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.

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.

(Corrects number of nations allowing same-sex marriage in third paragraph of story published yesterday.)
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