By Advocate.com Editors
Originally published on Advocate.com August 19 2013 9:50 AM ET
Gay and lesbian couples in New Zealand began marrying today, as the nation's marriage equality law took effect at 8 a.m. The law was sponsored by lesbian lawmaker Louisa Wall, and received final parliamentary approval by a vote of 77 to 44 in April. New Zealand now becomes the 14th nation worldwide to embrace marriage equality.
At least 31 couples legally tied the knot in the first half of the day, reports the Washington Blade. The first to marry were Natasha Vitali and Melissa Ray, who wed in an Auckland church just before 9 a.m. local time (5 p.m. Eastern time Sunday in the U.S.). The couple won the honor of being the first to wed, in an all-expenses-paid event sponsored by a local radio station, notes the Blade.
Following close on their heels were Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau, who were married on an Air New Zealand flight from Queenstown to Auckland Monday. Friends, family — including the couple's three children — and out actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, along with his new husband, Justin Mikita, were also on board to celebrate the first same-sex marriage in the Kiwi skies. Find a firsthand account from an Advocate's editor on board that historic flight here.
And click through the photos below to see shots from several of the happy unions that took place in the newly equal New Zealand.
American actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson (Modern Family, right), who recently married his long-term partner, Justin Mikita, arrive in Auckland Monday, after attending the wedding of Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau (not pictured), who made history celebrating the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Zealand by saying "I do" in the skies on a flight from Queenstown to Auckland.
Natasha Vitali (left) and Melissa Ray (right) exchange rings with officiant Rev. Matt Tittle at the Auckland Unitary Church Monday in Auckland.
Vitali and Ray leave the Auckland Unitary Church in a horse-drawn cart following their wedding.
Richard Rawstorn (left) with Richard Andrew (center left) from Christchurch, and Jess Ives (right) and Rachel Briscoe (center right) from the Bay of Islands celebrate being among New Zealand's first same-sex couples married during the first such ceremony at the Rotorua Museum Monday.
Jess Ives (right) and Rachel Briscoe (left) from celebrate their wedding during the first same-sex marriage ceremony at the Rotorua Museum.
Richard Rawstorn (left) with Richard Andrew (center), from Christchurch, celebrate their wedding at the first same-sex marriage ceremony at the Rotorua Museum.
Trent Kandler gets ready for his big day at the Museum Hotel Monday in Wellington, New Zealand. Kandler and his partner, fellow Australian Paul McCarthy, were flown to Wellington by Tourism New Zealand in a promotion to highlight to Australians that same-sex marriage is legal in New Zealand.
Paul McCarthy (center), flower girl Amanda Wenham (left), and matron of honor Tracey Moloney pose with an Andy Warhol quote at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, Monday in Wellington.
Paul McCarthy (center) and Trent Kandler (center right) pose after being married at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, Monday in Wellington. The Australian gay couplewas flown to Wellington by Tourism New Zealand in a promotion to highlight to Australians that same-sex marriage is legal in New Zealand.
Paul McCarthy (left) and Trent Kandler celebrate after being married at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa.
A box with cones holding rose petals stands outside the first same-sex marriage ceremony at the Rotorua Museum Monday.