New-Zealand-Gay-FlagNew Zealand has become the 13th country in the world, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region, to legalize same-sex marriage.

Hundreds gathered to celebrate outside Parliament, where the gay marriage bill passed with a vote of 77 to 44 on Wednesday. Leaders of most political parties had urged lawmakers to vote with their consciences, rather than along party lines.

“Excluding one group from marriage is oppressive and unacceptable,” said the bill’s sponsor Labour MP Louisa Wall. “Nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill.”

The first same-sex couples will be able to wed in August. Meanwhile, the new law will also mean that married transgender people will not have to divorce when they realign their gender on official records.

New Zealand is the second country in as many weeks to legalize gay marriage after Uruguay passed a sweeping bill last week that President Jose Mujica is expected to sign. The gay marriage league of nations also consists of the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark.

The kiwi nation decriminalized homosexuality in 1985 and has had civil unions for same-sex couples since 2005. Reflecting on the 28 years he has been with his partner, Green Party MP Kevin Hague noted that their relationship was illegal when they first met, but said he is happy to see gay relationships officially sanctioned in his lifetime.

“With this bill, Parliament stretches out its arms … and says ‘you belong’,” Hague said.

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