Lawmakers voted 77 to 44 in favor of the gay-marriage bill on its third and final reading.
"For us, we can now feel equal to everyone else," said Tania Penafiel Bermudez, a bank teller who stressed 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."
In one of several speeches that ended in a standing ovation, bill sponsor Louisa Wall told lawmakers the change was "our road toward healing."
Bill supporters wait outside Parliament (Photo: AFP)
"In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal – it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person," she said.
Lawmakers from most political parties were encouraged by their leaders to vote as their conscience dictated 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."
Hundreds wait outside Parliament (Photo: AFP)
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.
Many people in New Zealand remain vehemently opposed to gay marriage. The lobbying group Family First last year presented a petition to Parliament signed by 50,000 people who opposed the bill. Another 25,000 people have since added their signatures to that petition.
"Historically and culturally, marriage is about man and a woman, and it shouldn't be touched," said Family First founder Bob McCoskrie.
McCoskrie said same-sex marriage should have been put to a public referendum rather than a parliamentary vote. That might not have changed the outcome, however: Surveys indicate that about two-thirds of New Zealanders favor gay marriage.
The change was given impetus last May when US President Barack Obama declared his support for gay marriage. That prompted Prime Minister Key to break his silence on the issue by saying he was "not personally opposed" to the idea. Wall then put forward the bill, which she had previously drafted.
Same-sex marriage is recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Lawmakers in Uruguay approved a law last week that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign. Nine states in the US also recognize such marriages, but the federal government does not.
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