WELLINGTON, New Zealand — New Zealand lawmakers on Wednesday overwhelmingly cast a first vote in favor of a gay marriage bill that was given impetus by President Barack Obama's public support of the issue.
The 80 to 40 vote in front of a packed and cheering public gallery was the first of three votes Parliament must hold before the bill can become law, a process that typically takes several months and allows the public to weigh in. Only a simple majority was needed to ensure a second vote, and the margin is a strong indication that the bill will be passed.
Should New Zealand pass the measure into law, it would become the 12th country since 2001 to recognize same-sex marriage. Some states in the U.S. also recognize such marriages, but the federal government does not.
Polls indicate about two-thirds of New Zealanders support gay marriage. It also has the support of most of the country's political leaders.
New Zealand already has in place same-sex civil union laws that confer many legal rights to gay couples, although activists argue those laws don't give them equal social status. One important change under the proposed legislation, however, is that same-sex married couples could jointly adopt a child, something they can't do under current laws.
The proposed changes can be directly traced to Obama's declaration in May in support of gay marriage. That prompted center-right Prime Minister John Key to break his long silence on the issue by saying he was "not personally opposed" to the idea. Then lawmaker Louisa Wall, from the opposition Labour Party, put forward a bill she had previously drafted.
"If I'm really honest, I think the catalyst was around Obama's announcement, and then obviously our prime minister came out very early in support, as did the leader of my party, David Shearer," Wall told The Associated Press. "The timing was right."
Wall, 40, is openly gay. She represented the country in both netball and rugby before turning to politics, a background she said helps give her focus. She said she's gotten thousands of emails both supporting and opposing her stance on gay marriage, including some hate mail.
This week, opponents of the bill presented a petition to lawmakers signed by 50,000 people. Bob McCoskrie, founder of the conservative lobby group Family First, which helped organize the petition, said civil unions go far enough in providing legal rights to same-sex couples and there's no need to redefine marriage.
"Equality doesn't mean sameness," he said. "Marriage has always been about the relationship of a man and a woman because of their natural potential to have children."
Despite sponsoring the bill, Wall said that if it passes, she has no plans to marry her partner of five years, lawyer Prue Tamatekapua. She said that for them, the civil union celebration they enjoyed two years ago is enough.
"I'm happy. Other people aren't," she said. "I'm not driven by self-interest, if I can say that. For me, this is fundamentally about living in a fair and just society."
Same-sex marriage is currently recognized in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Several other countries, including France, are considering making it legal.
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The Netherlands was the first country to recognize gay marriage in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2001</a>. <em>Pictured: Jan van Breda and Thijs Timmermans.</em>
Belgium legalized same-sex marriages in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2003. </a> <em>Pictured: Marion Huibrecht and Christel Verswyvelen.</em>
Spain legalized gay marriage in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2005</a>.
Canada followed Spain and approved gay marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2005. </a>
South Africa legalized same sex marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2006.</a> <em>Pictured: Vernon Gibbs and Tony Hall. </em>
Norway followed suit in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2009.</a> <em>Norwegian finance minister and chairwoman of the Socialist Left party Kristin Halvorsen (L) stands next to wedding figurines outside the House of Parliament in Oslo on June 11, 2008, where she celebrated the passing of a new law awarding equal rights to same sex partnerships as those enjoyed by heterosexual marriages. (Getty)</em>
Sweden recognized same sex marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2009.</a> <em>Pictured: Johan Lundqvist (L) and Alf Karlsson. </em>
Portugal recognized gay marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2010.</a> <em>Pictured: Teresa Pires and Helena Paixao. </em>
Iceland legalized gay marriage in <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-10650267" target="_hplink">2010.</a>
Argentina legalized same sex-marriage in <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/4081999.stm" target="_hplink">2010.</a> It was the only Latin American country to do so. <em>Pictured: Giorgio Nocentino (L) and Jaime Zapata.</em>
New Zealand<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/17/maurice-williamson-new-zealand-gay-marriage-_n_3100714.html?utm_hp_ref=gay-voices" target="_blank"> became the first</a> Asia-Pacific nation (and the 13th in the world) to legalize same-sex marriage. <em>Pictured: Jills Angus Burney (L) and Deborah Hambly.</em>
Denmark became the first country to allow the registration of gay partnerships in 1989. In 2012, Denmark's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/07/denmark-approves-gay-wedd_0_n_1577288.html" target="_blank">Parliament approved </a>a law allowing same-sex couples to get married in formal church weddings instead of the short blessing ceremonies that the state's Lutheran Church offered.
The Uruguay Parliament lawmakers passed the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/10/uruguay-legalizes-gay-marriage_n_3057458.html" target="_blank">"marriage equality project"</a> in Montevideo, Uruguay,Wednesday, April 10, 2013.
Same-sex marriage is legal in 13 U.S. states and Washington DC.
Some <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/26/brazils-top-appeals-court-upholds-gay-marriage_n_1032481.html" target="_blank">parts of Brazil</a> allow same-sex marriage (AL, BA, CE, DF, ES, MS, PR, PI, SE, and SP).
Some areas of Mexico allow gay marriage, such <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/06/mexico-gay-marriage-law-unconstitutional-_n_2249701.html" target="_blank">as Mexico City</a>.
France legalized same sex marriage in <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/23/france-gay-marriage-law-_n_3139470.html?utm_hp_ref=world&ir=World&utm_hp_ref=world" target="_hplink">2013</a>. Pictures: an illustration made with plastic figurines of men is seen in front of the Palais Bourbon, the seat of the French National Assembly. (JOEL SAGET/Getty Images)
Britain legalized gay marriage on July 17, 2013 after Queen Elizabeth II gave her royal stamp of approval. Gay marriages are set to begin in England and Wales in the summer of 2014.