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New Zealand lawmakers approve gay-marriage bill (with televised video of the law passing)

BY NICK PERRY, ASSOCIATED PRESS

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Hundreds of jubilant gay-rights advocates celebrated at New Zealand's Parliament Wednesday night as the country become the 13th in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage.

Lawmakers voted 77 to 44 in favor of the gay-marriage bill on its third and final reading.

People watching from the public gallery and some lawmakers immediately broke into song after the result was announced, singing the New Zealand love song "Pokarekare Ana" in the indigenous Maori language.

"For us, we can now feel equal to everyone else," said Tania Penafiel Bermudez, a bank teller who said she already considers herself married to partner Sonja Fry but now can get a certificate to prove it. "This means we can feel safe and fair and right in calling each other wife and wife."

In one of several speeches that ended in a standing ovation, bill sponsor Louisa Wall told lawmakers the change was "our road toward healing."

"In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal - it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person," she said. She added that "nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill."

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