Cheers and Maori Song as New Zealand OKs Gay Marriage

, The Associated Press

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The halls of Parliament echoed with a traditional Maori love song after lawmakers made New Zealand the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage.

Supporters of the bill, including hundreds of gay-rights advocates, stood and cheered after the 77-44 vote was announced late Wednesday. Then someone started singing "Pokarekare Ana" in the indigenous Maori language, and soon nearly the whole room joined in.

"They are agitated, the waters of Waiapu," the song begins. "But when you cross over, girl, they will be calm."

Before the vote, bill sponsor Louisa Wall told lawmakers the change was "our road toward healing."

"In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal -- it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person," she said. She added that "nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill."

Fellow Member of Parliament Maurice Williamson mocked a reverend's claim that the bill would set off a "gay onslaught."

"We are struggling to know what the gay onslaught will look like," Williamson told his colleagues. "We don't know if it will come down the Pakuranga Highway as a series of troops, or whether it will be a gas that flows in over the electorate that blocks us all in."

"The sun will still rise tomorrow," Williamson assured the bill's opponents. And he suggested that religious objections might even be off-base: "We had the most enormous big gay rainbow across my electorate. It has to be a sign, sir!"

Most political party leaders had encouraged lawmakers to vote by their conscience rather than along party lines. Although Wall is from the opposition Labour Party, the bill also was supported by center-right Prime Minister John Key.

"In my view, marriage is a very personal thing between two individuals," Key said. "And, in the end, this is part of equality in modern-day New Zealand."

Since 2005, New Zealand has allowed civil unions, which confer many legal rights to gay couples. The new law will allow gay couples to jointly adopt children for the first time and will also allow their marriages to be recognized in other countries. The law will take effect in late August.

"For us, we can now feel equal to everyone else," said bank teller Tania Penafiel Bermudez, who said she already considers herself married to partner Sonja Fry but now can get a certificate to prove it. "This means we can feel safe and fair and right in calling each other wife and wife."

"This is really, really huge," said Jills Angus Burney, a lawyer who drove about 90 minutes to Parliament to watch the vote with her partner, Deborah Hambly, who had flown in from farther afield. "It's really important to me. It's just unbelievable."

Burney, a Presbyterian, said she and Hambly want to celebrate with a big, traditional wedding as soon as possible.

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What's being said

  • Neil Cameron

    This can only happen when love becomes law.

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