Same-sex couples in New Zealand yesterday won the right to form civil unions, with federal parliament passing the Civil Unions Bill.

From April 26 next year couples can commit themselves to a civil union and receive the same legal status as heterosexual couples in civil marriages.

Parliament voted 65-55 to pass the controversial legislation, The New Zealand Herald reported.

During the last three days of debate on the issue MPs opposed to it fought to change the Civil Union Bill and to force a referendum on it.

But today, in the third reading of the bill, the majority vote was the same as it has been through most of the legislative process.

The bill also applies to heterosexual couples, but it does not change the Marriage Act which still applies only to men and women.

After MPs cast their conscience votes and the final count was announced, the chamber was drowned in applause from the public galleries. Parliamentarians embraced, cheered and congratulated each other, The New Zealand Herald reported.

The minister in charge of the bill, David Benson-Pope, said the legislation took nothing away from marriage. Once this bill is passed, and the sky doesn’t fall in, the opposition to it will very quickly evaporate, he said.

It gives the simplest of things – the formal recognition and respect by our laws for the individual choices of New Zealanders.

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