New Zealand became the latest country to legalize gay marriage on Wednesday, spurring cheers and applause inside and outside Parliament. Smiling couples and their supporters in the House of Commons broke into a Maori love song after the 77-44 vote was tallied.
“Nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill,” Louisa Wall, the lawmaker who sponsored the marriage law, said Wednesday after thanking her partner. “I thank my colleagues, for simply doing what is fair, just and right.”
With the Wednesday vote, New Zealand has become the first country in the Asia-Pacific region where gay marriage is legal. Eleven countries across the globe allow couples of the same sex to marry; Uruguay is poised to join them after passing a bill that the president championed and is expected to sign. France is also en route to legalize gay marriage after senators approved it last week.
Openly gay lawmakers were among the voices calling for the New Zealand law.
“When I first got together with my partner, 29 years ago, the message sent by the law could not have been clearer; we were outsiders and did not belong,” Green Party lawmaker Kevin Hague said in a statement. "Today Parliament has sent a message to the rainbow community that we do belong without having to compromise who we are."
The New Zealand Herald reported there was little rancor as the bill was passed, as opponents had recognized they would likely be defeated and opted not to speak during the debate. In the months leading up to the vote, however, there was fervent opposition from groups such as Family First New Zealand, which said Wednesday that the law made marriage "meaningless."
The Roman Catholic Church had argued that the bill could harm children. Marriage should ensure that children “fully experience the parenting of a mother and a father,” Archbishop John Dew said in a statement last month.
A March poll showed that gay marriage was narrowly favored by New Zealanders, but opposition to the bill had surged significantly in less than a year, according to the Herald. An earlier survey by Research New Zealand found that 49% of those polled were in favor and 15% said they didn't care, which meant "in effect, 64% support, or at least do not oppose, same sex marriages."
The New Zealand law will go into effect in August.