Gay couples are one step closer to being able to walk down the aisle.
The controversial bill to legalise same sex marriage has passed its first stage with a conscience vote in Parliament tonight.
Labour MP Louisa Wall's Marriage Amendment Bill was passed with 78 in favour and 40 against.
It needed 61 votes to pass its first stage.
Wall said tonight was a 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.
"I want to take this opportunity to extend my thanks to all of my Parliamentary colleagues who supported the bill this evening, and for their passionate engagement with this cause," Wall said.
The only minor party to reject the bill at its first reading, New Zealand First, said it wants a referendum on the issue.
"Such a major legislative change should be based on the will of the people not 121 temporarily empowered Members of Parliament," said leader Winston Peters.
All the other minor parties voted in support.
If we want to do something about the terrible burden of misery illness and death being faced by lesbian gay and transgender young people, then we have to do something about discrimination, said Kevin Hague of the Greens.
The bill now heads to a select committee where the public will have a chance to make submissions before the bill's second reading at Parliament.
Plenty of support
Earlier today about 1000 supporters of the bill marched on Parliament in a festive mood in anticipation of a "yes" vote tonight.
The crowd gathered in Wellington's Civic Square before marching down Willis St and Lambton Quay to Parliament grounds, many carrying rainbow flags and placards.
Wall addressed the marchers outside Parliament. She released a statement saying the bill which would give all New Zealanders the right to marry regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity "is about fairness, choice and equality for all New Zealanders".
"Marriage equality is about every couple having the right to celebrate and formalise their commitment to each other by getting married, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender," Wall said.
She said today's rally at Parliament "is testament to the widespread support this issue has across a broad cross-section of New Zealanders.
"This is an issue whose time has come."
Debates about same-sex marriage are taking place in Australia,
the United Kingdom, Scotland and the USA, and marriage equality has
been legislated for in the Netherlands, Canada and South Africa,
"This is a global conversation and we are part of it."
She said: "I believe that the time is right to open the institution of marriage to all New Zealanders. I am calling on all of my parliamentary colleagues to support this bill to the select committee where we can open this debate to the public.
This morning, Wall debated her bill with Bob McCroskrie, National Director of the conservative lobby group Family First on TV ONE's Breakfast.
Wall said not allowing same-sex couples to marry is a form of discrimination.
"This is about the privilege of marriage," she said. "For members of our community I think that the question is should the State be discriminating against New Zealand citizens?"
"Only the state can give out marriage licences... And essentially my bill will say that the state shouldn't be able to discriminate," commented Wall.
Wall also said that her bill would not impact the Church's principles on marriage.
"[The bill] will preserve the rights of our churches to discriminate, because under the Bill of Rights we have freedom of religion."
"My bill isn't going to affect how our churches define marriage; it won't oblige a minister to marry a same sex couple," said Wall.
However, McCroskrie said that marriage as an institution has always been discriminatory because "nature is discriminating".
"Equality is not sameness, and I think we have to understand that marriage is reflecting the relationship between a man and woman, because only a man and a woman can produce a child... So nature itself is discriminating," he said.
"Same sex couples have recognition as it stands, and we don't need to attack marriage to achieve that.
"We are simply saying that marriage does not need to be re-defined."
"Once you change the definition of marriage once, what stops you changing it again. If you take away the regulation of gender, why not take the regulation of number. When will the amendment be introduced to allow polygamy?"
TV ONE's Breakfast weather presenter Tamati Coffey, who wants to be married to his long-term partner, has also stepped into the same-sex marriage debate this morning.
The couple already have a civil union but Coffey said there is a big difference between that and marriage for him personally.
"It's a big difference, when you say you are married, it engenders memories of my parents living through the 37 years of their strong marriage.
"A civil union to me doesn't mean anything. It has no depth to me. I do want to be able to get married now. And I'll get 'un-civil-unioned' in a second," he said.
Also, St Matthew-in-the-City in central Auckland is installing a new billboard tomorrow morning to show their support for Wall's bill.
The billboard, which is to be placed outside the Anglican church, portrays the top of a wedding cake with two women in bridal gowns and states, "We don't care who's on top."
"Through our billboard we are expressing our solidarity with the
many Christians in many denominations who are calling on Members of
Parliament to support Louisa Wall's bill," said the Reverend Clay
Nelson of St Matthew-in-the-City.
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