Four months after New Zealand became the 14th country in the world and the Asia-Pacific’s first to legalize same-sex marriage, the nation is holding its first weddings today. Monday morning 31 couples were scheduled to tie the knot – 15 in Auckland, six in Wellington, six in Christchurch and four in Rotorua – according to the Department of Internal Affairs, reports BBC.
As the BBC noted, Auckland couple Tash Vitali and Melissa Ray were among the first to walk down the aisle this morning, after winning a competition on a radio show for an all-expenses paid ceremony.
The reverend who presided over the ceremony, Matt Tittle, said the wedding “changed the social fabric of communities” in New Zealand and around the world, observing that less than 15 percent of countries have legalized same-sex marriage. “The world is still a dangerous and even deadly place for gay, bisexual and transgender people,” Tittle added. “We thank God that's not true in New Zealand. All love is holy.”
Other church leaders don’t share his sentiment, the BBC notes. The Anglican Church has asked its ministers not to hold ceremonies for gay couples, pending a report next year, while Catholic bishops have opposed the weddings. Some denominations have not yet taken a position.
This groundbreaking social development was made possible by the Marriage Amendment Bill, brought to parliament by MP Louisa Wall in April. Wall was in attendance at the couple’s ceremony, where she read Maya Angelou’s poem Touched by an Angel. The winner of Voice of Australia, Harrison Craig also crooned for the couple before they said their vows and departed in a horse-drawn carriage.
Auckland couple Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau will get hitched inflight between Queenstown and Auckland. In attendance will be gay star of the U.S. television program Modern Family. He said, “I'm thrilled that there are so many people here in New Zealand who are so excited about marriage equality and also asking the question, 'Why has it taken this long?' So I think with each extra step it becomes more of a normality and it becomes less of an unknown.”
According to Stuff.co.nz, downloads of marriages forms have tripled in the past week alone as gay couples around the nation eagerly prepare to get hitched. Reportedly, 977 of the forms were downloaded in the past week. Of these couples, 696 are applying from within New Zealand, while 156 were from overseas.
According to BBC, around 1,000 gay Australian couples are expected to make the short trip to marry, according to the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group. The first one expected to do so is Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler, who won a Tourism New Zealand competition. Although the wedding won’t be recognized in Australia, McCarthy told AFP it would nonetheless be “both historically significant, and an important step in our personal lives.”