New Zealanders are one step closer to legalising same-sex civil unions after parliament approved two landmark bills for further discussion.

The Civil Union Bill will allow same-sex unions to be registered under the law and passed its first reading by a vote of 66 to 50, The New Zealand Herald reported. About 10,000 same-sex couples will be able to take advantage of the proposed law.

The Relationships (Statutory References) Bill will allow for neutral laws on relationships -“ whether civil unions, de facto or marriages. The bill will amend over 100 separate statutes and passed its first reading by 77 votes to 42 last week.

Both bills have now been referred to the country’s justice and electoral committee and were opened to public submissions.

Opponents of the bills sent hate mail to New Zealand’s MPs, and even protested by taking a goat to parliament. Six representatives of the Salvation Army said the animal represented what same-sex civil unions would ultimately lead to -“ people marrying animals.

The leader of the Christian political party Destiny New Zealand Richard Lewis called the Civil Union Bill a fraud, designed to provide a smokescreen for legal same-sex marriage.

A civil union already exists for opposite-sex couples. It’s called marriage, Lewis said.

There has never been a reason for de facto couples to pursue an alternative to marriage. Why would they? This bill is about one thing only -“ legislating same-sex marriage.

Lewis said the organisation would rally outside parliament against the bills on 23 August. The group was also considering adding the criminalising of homosexuality to their family-friendly policies.

New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark said the new bills were conservative as government was not planning to amend the Marriage Act, stating marriage would remain between a man and a woman.

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