New Zealand is expected to become the 13th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage as a bill to amend the current marriage law comes before the country’s Parliament for its third and final reading later tonight.
Members of Parliament will debate the biggest change to gay and transgender rights since homosexual law reform 25 years ago.
The reading and debate is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in Wellington, where it is already Wednesday evening, reported The New Zealand Herald. The vote is expected around 9 p.m. NZST (5:00 a.m. EDT).
Parliament is likely to back the measure by a wide margin, making New Zealand the first Asia-Pacific country to permit same-sex weddings.
Last month, lawmakers supported the bill 77 – 44 in the second of three votes needed for a bill to be approved. That vote was little changed from the 80-to-40 result in the first vote last August.
“Marriage belongs to society as a whole, and that requires the involvement of the whole of society,” said the bill’s sponsor, MP Louisa Wall, who is openly gay. “The role of the state in marriage is to issue a license to two people who love each other and want to commit to one another formally. That’s what this bill does.”
New Zealand already has same-sex civil union laws that confer many legal rights to gay couples.
Polls indicate about two-thirds of New Zealanders support gay marriage. The bill was given impetus last year by President Barack Obama’s public support of the issue.
Tonight’s vote is likely to be little more than a formality.