A law allowing same-sex partners to have nearly the same legal rights as married couples came into force in New Zealand on Tuesday, with the first of the newly defined civil unions expected this weekend. The measure stops short of legalizing same-sex marriages, but it was fiercely opposed by religious groups who called it a "gay marriage law" and said it undermined the importance of traditional marriages.
The law makes civil union ceremonies available for both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples seeking a pact that's nominally less binding than marriage. Registration takes at least three days, and local media said the first ceremony was expected Saturday. Labour Party lawmaker Tim Barnett, who lobbied for the bill, said he hoped that ceremonies over the weekend would cause opponents of civil unions to reconsider. "They will see two people who are committed and want the world to know,"
Barnett said. "I would have thought it's hard for people to feel threatened by that."
Two men who led the fight for the new law--18-year couple John Jolliff, 75, and Des Smith, 65--planned to tie the knot Sunday at Wellington Town Hall in the capital with Mayor Kerry Prendergast presiding. The two men said they already had written their vows for the ceremony. A street parade was to be held ahead of the event. The couple planned a honeymoon in Paris, Jolliff said.
The Roman Catholic Church and evangelical Destiny Church, which opposed the law, said they had no plans to try to block civil union ceremonies. Roman Catholic priests won't perform any of the ceremonies, but there are no plans for a campaign of prayers and homilies against the practice, church spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said. Destiny New Zealand leader Richard Lewis said the evangelical church and its linked political party "did what they could" to stop the law from passing. "It really changes the face and nature of [the] dynamic of marriage, which is a tragedy for future generations who we want to enjoy marriage for what it is," he said. (AP)