A marriage equality bill has passed its second reading in New Zealand’s Parliament.

The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill passed 77 to 44 and now faces one further vote before it can become law. The large majority of supporters all but ensures the bill’s passage in its final hurdle, expected to come next month.

Gay Labour MP Louisa Wall’s bill easily passed its first reading with a vote of 80 to 40 in August last year. MPs were granted a conscience vote.

In February, a New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committee gave the thumbs up to same-sex marriage being legalised in the country. The committee said the bill should progress but with an amendment that ensures no minister was obliged to marry someone against their own beliefs.

The committee received 21,533 submissions on the bill, 10,487 in favour and 8148 against.

After months of consultation, debate on the issue turned nasty in parts Auckland yesterday, where opponents distributed leaflets suggesting marriage equality will result in more incidences of AIDS and syphilis. The New Zealand Herald reports that the leaflets, which also claimed that legalising gay marriage would lead to the end of titles such as ‘husband and wife’, were placed on cars throughout the city.

On the same day, youth wings of New Zealand’s eight major political parties announced in a joint press conference outside Parliament that they supported the bill and signed a banner to signify the move.

Polls suggest nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders support extending marriage rights to same-sex couples but church leaders stepped up their campaign against the plans late last year.

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