Civil unions for same-sex couples in New Zealand are one step closer today, with parliament last night voting to the pass the legislation in its second reading.

The Civil Union Bill passed its second reading by 65 votes to 55. The vote is expected to be the same or similar in the third and final reading next week.

If the bill comes into effect. gay couples who form civil unions will be given the same legal status as heterosexual civil marriages from April next year.

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