A New Zealand First: Equality at Cruising Altitude

One couple celebrates in the skies as New Zealand adds itself on Monday to the list of countries with marriage equality.

BY Michelle Garcia

August 19 2013 1:28 AM ET

NEW ZEALAND — Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau of New Zealand seem to prefer intimate moments. Besides, the quiet couple of 13 years are raising three sprightly children, leaving little time or energy to plan for the pomp and circumstance of a large wedding. But their modesty and humanitarian spirit was what won them a very public wedding ceremony on an Air New Zealand flight from Queenstown to Auckland. Wanikau and Bendall were among the first same-sex couples to legally marry in New Zealand starting Monday, and they were definitely the first to be wed in the Kiwi skies.

Once the 9 a.m. flight, filled with family and friends, reached cruising altitude, Bendall and Wanikau proudly walked from the back of the plane to the front, where local legend Kim Jewel Elliot performed a ceremony. Elliot had presided over the couple's previous civil union and commitment ceremonies. During the ceremony, Elliot, who was dressed in traditional Maori ceremonial garments, acknowledged the millions of gay people around the world still fighting for marriage equality and LGBT rights.

"We send our support and strength to those who continue to advocate in all nations for the right for all of us to marry," she said, adding, "Now all deep loves can be freely and openly celebrated. From this day forward, all children in New Zealand can grow up knowing they can marry whomever they love."

Bendall and Wanikau, as well as their children, exchanged traditional Maori pendants made of jade stone instead of wedding bands.

Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband, Justin Mikita, also newlyweds, were on board to toast the couple as they reached this milestone.

"A successful marriage requires you to fall in love many, many times — with the same person," Ferguson joked. "It was beautiful to watch you fall in love with each other again today."

To cap the ceremony, a choir on the plane sang the New Zealand's unofficial national anthem, "Pokarekare Ana," a traditional Maori song about two lovers who cannot be together. Members of New Zealand's Parliament shocked the world when they sang the song after voting to establish a marriage equality law in April.

Upon landing, the couple celebrated their special day in an airplane hangar at the Auckland airport with more champagne, a rainbow cake, and a performance by local singing group, Anika Boh & Hollie.

Air New Zealand, which coordinated the festivities, will also send the couple on a six-day honeymoon to Palm Springs, Calif. Lorraine Murphy, the airline's chief people officer, said it was a natural fit for the "progressive, daring," national carrier to ring in the new marriage equality law. Now New Zealand's neighbors to the east look to the small country as the arbiter for what is to come.

"I already know there are couples from Australia coming to New Zealand to marry," she said.

Above: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ally Wanikau, and Lynley Bendall

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