A proposed law that would legally recognize registered civil unions of unwed gay and straight couples survived its first vote in New Zealand's parliament Thursday.
The bill passed 66 to 50 and gives unmarried couples the same rights as wedded ones, including child custody, property rights, and tax, welfare, and retirement benefits. The bill also allows civil union partners to be buried in the same plot of land, which is prohibited under current law.
Both Prime Minister Helen Clark and opposition National Party leader Don Brash voted for the legislation.
Supporters of the bill have stressed the new law would not permit same-sex marriages, and Clark has said marriage would be reserved in the law for heterosexual couples only. But conservatives have dubbed the legislation the "Gay Marriage Law" and vowed to oppose it, saying it degrades the meaning of marriage. National Party lawmaker Judith Collins said the bill is "marriage by another name. It's not for heterosexual couples. This is about gay marriage, and it's about time we recognized that."
Associate justice minister David Benson-Pope, the bill's sponsor, said the legislation merely recognizes relationships rather than denies their existence. "It is moderate legislation in step with international opinion," he told the parliament before the vote. The bill still faces several more votes.