New Zealand becomes first country in Asia-Pacific to legalize same-sex marriage

The change in New Zealand's law could pressure neighbors such as Australia to consider revising their laws.

By , Staff writer

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    New Zealand lawmaker Louisa Wall, who sponsored the gay marriage bill, stands on the steps of Parliament in Wellington before voting for the same-sex marriage Tuesday. New Zealand has become the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. Hundreds of jubilant gay-rights advocates celebrated at New Zealand's Parliament today after lawmakers vote 77 to 44 in favor of the gay-marriage bill.
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New Zealand has become the 13th  country and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. Its Parliament voted 77 to 44 Wednesday in favor of allowing same-sex marriage, prompting cheers, applause, and singing among those watching the process from the gallery.

New Zealand gave same-sex partnerships partial recognition in 2005 with civil unions. But the new law, which goes into effect in August, will allow couples who consider themselves gay, lesbian, and transgendered to marry, jointly adopt children, and have their marriages to be recognized in other countries, reports Al Jazeera English.

"It shows that we are building on our human rights as a country," Louisa Wall, an opposition Labour Party member of Parliament who campaigned in favor of the bill, told the Guardian.

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New Zealand joins Canada, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, Norway, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark, Mexico City, and some US states in recognizing same-sex marriage.

Uruguay passed a law last week. And Uruguay's President José Mujica is expected to sign the bill into law within the next few weeks.

France is also close to legalizing same-sex marriage – even though many French have taken to the streets to oppose it, The Christian Science Monitor reported earlier this year.

New Zealand’s law faced strong opposition by the Roman Catholic Church and other conservative groups, which said it would undermine the institution of the family.

Supporters of the bill said that they recognized it wouldn’t stop discrimination, but said it gave people hope.

‘‘This is for the young people ... this is for them.’’ Labour Deputy Leader Grant Robertson told Fairfax Media

On news of the court’s result, politicians promised the "sky would not cave in" because of the bill.

‘‘I give a promise to those people who are opposed to this bill right now... the sun will still rise tomorrow, your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything, your mortgage will not grow, you will not have skin disease or rashes or toads in your bed,” [said Customs Minister Maurice Williamson.]

‘‘So don’t make this into a big deal, this is fantastic for the people it affects but for most of us life will go on.’’ 

The change in New Zealand could put pressure on some of its neighbors to consider changing their laws. Australia rejected a similar proposal to allow same-sex couples to wed last year. In Australia, there has not been much political momentum for a change at a federal level. However, some Australian states are considering gay-marriage legislation, according to Al Jazeera. 

"With marriage equality now just three hours away by plane, those Australian same-sex couples who are tired of waiting will marry in New Zealand instead," group leader Rodney Croome said, though NPR reported that such marriages wouldn’t be recognized in Australia

Other countries situated in Asia-Pacific have seen movement that promises to bolster rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.

Vietnam has recently repealed regulations to fine same-sex couples who marry, according to the Bangkok Post. And in April, the first sitcom to feature openly gay characters aired in the conservative country, becoming a nationwide hit.

The success of the sitcom comes on the heels of a $6,000 grant for a Gay Pride celebration in Vietnam this year to draw attention to issues of discrimination. Campaigners are working on getting it sanctioned by the state. 

And earlier this year, the Monitor reported that in Thailand, which has one of the most tolerant attitudes toward homosexuality in Asia but no specific laws designed to protect same sex couples from discrimination, a bill was in the works to allow civil unions. It is expected to be presented to parliament soon.

Back in the courtroom in New Zealand, as the news was announced, people started singing the New Zealand love ballad "Pokarekare Ana" in the indigenous Maori language, according to multiple news outlets.

"For us, we can now feel equal to everyone else," Tania Penafiel Bermudez, a bank teller told Al Jazeera. She said she already considered herself married to partner, Sonja Fry, but "This means we can feel safe.”

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