New Zealand has become the 13th nation and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage after parliament voted to amend the nation's marriage act on Wednesday.
The New Zealand Heraldreports that the public gallery erupted in jubilation after the legislature's 77-44 vote was announced. Lawmakers then embraced and exchanged congratulations as the gallery, and some MPs, sang a waiata, the New Zealand love song "Pokarekare Ana." Hundreds of LGBT advocates also celebrated outside parliament after the historic vote.
While same-sex civil unions have been legal in New Zealand since 2005, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill updates a 1955 law in order to "ensure that all people, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity will have the opportunity to marry if they so choose."
"We did it," Labour MP Louisa Wall, the bill's lesbian sponsor, said following the vote. "In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal-- it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person. Nothing can make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill."
National Party MP Tau Henare said that LGBT Australians will now travel to New Zealand to get married.
"Hopefully it will push the Aussies into doing something," Henare told the Herald.
Prime Minister John Key, Labour leader David Shearer, Act leader John Banks, United Future Leader Peter Dunne, Mana Leader Hone Harawira and Maori Party leaders Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia all supported the bill.
LGBT New Zealanders and their supporters hailed the passage of the marriage equality bill.
"It feels really great to be gay and alive in New Zealand at the moment. I'm really proud of the waiata we sung-- it was amazing," said Scott Summerfield, a 22-year-old patron of the San Francisco Bath House bar in the capital Wellington. Summerfield told the Herald that the nation overcame "the last legislative barrier to equal rights for gay people."
"We cheered, yelled, cried and sang-- it was just amazing," performance artist Jake Andrew told the BBC. "I am so happy, not only because I can now marry the person I love, but because New Zealand has moved a step further towards gay and lesbian people becoming completely equal with the rest of society."
Same-sex couple Tania Bermudez and Sonja Fray told the BBC that the bill was about human rights.
"It means that we can actually call each other wife."
Although the measure passed parliament by a wide margin, dozens of lawmakers still voted against it. Conservative Party leader Colin Craig was one of them.
"We're seeing the politicians make a decision tonight that the people of this country wouldn't make," Craig told the BBC.
"Historically and culturally, marriage is about man and a woman, and it shouldn't be touched," he added.
New Zealand's vote comes just days after lawmakers in Uruguay voted to legalize gay marriage. The Uruguayan president has announced that he will sign the measure into law. Following formal legalization in Uruguay and New Zealand, 13 countries will have achieved marriage equality: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. Nine US states plus the District of Columbia and three Native American tribes, nine Brazilian states and the Brazilian Federal District, as well as the Federal District of Mexico, have legalized gay marriage.