A marriage equality bill has easily passed its first reading in New Zealand’s Parliament with a 80 to 40 vote yesterday.

MPs were granted a conscience vote on openly gay Labour MP Louisa Wall’s bill, which was drawn from Parliament’s members’ bill ballot in July.

“Marginalising and discriminating against particular sectors do not benefit society,” Wall said yesterday.

“It is a simple choice: do we support discriminatory laws or not?”

Wall received a standing ovation and was hugged by fellow MPs at the conclusion of her speech to Parliament.

Labour MP Su’a William Sio, who earlier this month asked Wall to withdraw her bill because it was ‘proving divisive in Pacific communities’, spoke against the bill and warned of a backlash against his party.

“It is a difficult issue and the views are very divided,” Sio said.

“By passing this legislation we not only change the definition of marriage, we change it’s meaning and the fundamental basis of marriage. This change will have enduring ramifications for future generations.”

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key had a proxy vote recorded in favour of the bill.

It will now be considered by a select committee and face two further votes before it can pass in to law, but local marriage equality advocates are confident of its success after the near landslide first vote.

Australian same-sex marriage advocates welcomed the passage of the bill through its first reading stage, but said Australia risks falling behind comparable countries unless it legislates for marriage equality at home.

Australian Marriage Equality national convenor Alex Greenwich said New Zealand’s progress on marriage reform would lead to soul-searching among many Australians.

“Australia should be leading our region in valuing the love and commitment same-sex couples share, but instead we find ourselves falling behind places like New Zealand,” Greenwich said.

“The 64 percent of Australians who support marriage equality will be embarrassed that our politicians are delaying a reform that will benefit families and the national economy.”

A recent Galaxy poll found Australian support for marriage equality at an all-time high of 64 percent.

Recent polls suggest nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders support extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.

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