WELLINGTON, New Zealand — The New Zealand Parliament on Wednesday voted 80-40 in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, the first of three votes which lawmakers must hold before the bill can become law.
Should Parliament pass the measure in the two subsequent votes, New Zealand would become the 12th country since 2001 to legalize marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.
New Zealand’s legislative process typically takes several months and asks for public opinion to weigh in during a series of consultations. But only a simple majority is needed to ensure a successful second vote, and Wednesday’s margin indicates there is enough support to ensure the bill’s passage.
Recent Polling indicates that about two-thirds of New Zealanders support same-sex marriage, which has also garnered the support of a majority of the country’s political leaders from all parties.
In 2005, New Zealand passed a same-sex civil union law that confers many legal rights to same-sex couples, although LGBT advocates claim that those laws do nott give them equal footing in terms of social status. One important change under this proposed measure would allow same-sex married couples to jointly adopt a child, which is not allowed under current laws.
Politicians and activists agreed that the change in the country’s political climate was a result of U.S. President Barack Obama’s declaration in May in which he voiced his support of same-sex marriage.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who had been silent on the issue, publicly stated that he was “not personally opposed” to the idea.
Louisa Wall, an openly lesbian member of Parliament for Labour, put forward the bill after Key’s statements saying “the timing was right.”
Wall’s ‘Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill’, which will now be looked at by a select committee in Parliament before being voted on again, aims to amend the country’s Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.
“Tonight is an historic moment for New Zealanders and a step toward the legal recognition that loving couples, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, should be able to marry,” said Wall, immediately after the vote was tallied.
“History tells us that the struggles for the gay community, as with any minority, have often been cruel. What has been heartening in this discussion has been the positive response from younger people across the board,” she said.
This week, opponents of the bill presented a petition to MP’s signed by 50,000 people. Bob McCoskrie, founder of the conservative christian group Family First, which helped organize the petition, said civil unions go far enough in providing legal rights to same-sex couples and there’s no need to redefine marriage.
Wall’s bill makes it clear that a religious minister will not be forced to marry same-sex couples – they can refuse.
“Because we have freedom of religion in New Zealand, no religious body is bound to marry a couple if that marriage is at odds with their religion’s belief,” she said.
Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Several other countries, including France, are also considering marriage equality legislation.