by John Macdonald
WELLINGTON, April 18 (Xinhua) -- It was an historic vote in the New Zealand Parliament that was widely hailed for its lack of the usual political rancor.
While the opposing views stemmed from deeply held personal beliefs, the country's Members of Parliament (MPs) late on Wednesday managed to debate and pass a law change to allow same- sex marriage without resorting to their trademark denigration and abuse.
Members of the public stood in the debating chamber and sang a Maori love song after the Bill passed by 77 votes, including that of Prime Minister John Key, to 44, and MPs hugged each other.
Supporters up and down the country gathered to watch proceedings on television and the country's media reported stories of gay and lesbian couples popping the question with engagement rings at the ready.
But outside the halls of Parliament the next morning, the non- Parliamentary opponents of the Marriage Amendment Bill were seething with prophecies of doom.
Coordinator of the Protect Marriage campaign Bob McCoskrie said the law's proponents had destroyed the institution of marriage and the rights of children.
"In ramming through this bill in a shameful way without due consideration, and with no clear public mandate, politicians have committed an arrogant act of cultural vandalism," McCoskrie said in a statement.
"Ironically, marriage now has become meaningless. We will now be using the word to describe something else -- not commonly or traditionally conceived, but conceived by politics and political correctness."
CULTURE OF DEATH
Some opponents paradoxically argued that marriage would no longer be an institution intended for procreation and the raising of children, while also fearing for the well-being of children raised in households with "two mothers or two fathers."
The Right to Life group said the Bill's passage marked "a day of shame in the history of New Zealand" and described same-sex marriage as a "cruel charade."
"In an astounding challenge to the authority of God, Parliament has assumed the right to seek to redefine the institution of marriage to include same sex couples," said a statement from the group.
"Homosexual marriage is the logical conclusion for a culture that celebrates sterility; it is part of a culture of death," it said.
"The widespread acceptance of homosexuality could be God's punishment on society."
SYMBOL OF HOPE
The vote made New Zealand the first country in the Asia-Pacific region and the 13th in the world to enshrine marriage equality in legislation that allows two people to marry regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Bill's sponsor, opposition Labour Party MP Louisa Wall, told Radio New Zealand that much of the pressure for change had come from young people.
"What's happened with society I think is that we've evolved from segregating a community within our wider New Zealand community to being fully accepted and being able to fully participate."
Campaign for Marriage Equality convener Conrad Reyners summed up the feelings of many of the Bill's supporters both inside and outside Parliament: "When this Bill comes into force in four months' time, the sun will still rise. All that will change is that tens of thousands of ordinary Kiwis in loving, committed relationships will finally be treated like the equal citizens they are."
The vote was a symbol of hope that would not end discrimination overnight, said Reyners in a statement, but it sent a "powerful message of self-worth and acceptance."
"We always knew that love would be more persuasive than fear. Every single MP who has voted for marriage equality now stands on the right side of history. Their legacy is a more equal New Zealand where all New Zealanders are treated fairly under our marriage law," he said.
While many of the country's religious groups, including the Roman Catholic church, remain implacably opposed to homosexuality and gay marriage, the Presbyterian and Anglican churches said they were still considering their stance on allowing gay couples to marry in their churches.
The Anglican Church said gay couples would not be able to marry in their churches until the General Synod met in May next year, when it would consider the issue, Radio New Zealand reported.
The Presbyterian Church said at this stage its position on marriage was that it was between a man and a woman, but the Right Reverend Ray Coster said it would have a clearer position when its General Assembly met in 2014.
The bill will be in force by the end of August.