New Zealand gay couples hold first weddings

Tash Vitali and Melissa Ray were among the first couples to get married

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The first same-sex weddings have taken place in New Zealand after the country became the first in the Asia-Pacific region and 14th in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.

Thirty-one same-sex couples had been due to marry on Monday, according to the Department of Internal Affairs.

It comes after New Zealand's parliament passed a bill in April amending the country's 1955 marriage act.

The move had faced opposition from Christian lobby groups.

Conservative lobby group Family First said changing the Marriage Act was "an arrogant act of cultural vandalism" which did not have a public mandate.

But the Campaign for Marriage Equality said it ended a historical injustice.

'All love is holy'

Among the first couples tying the knot were Auckland couple Tash Vitali and Melissa Ray, who won an all expenses paid ceremony in a radio competition.

"The world is still a dangerous and even deadly place for gay, bisexual and transgender people," Reverend Matt Tittle said, according to stuff.co.nz.

"We thank God that's not true in New Zealand.

"All love is holy."

Another couple, Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau, made their vows in their air on a special flight between Queenstown and Auckland - in a ceremony attended by US actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson from the sitcom Modern Family.

Richard Andrew (R) places a ring on the finger of Richard Rawstorn as they are married during one of the country's first same-sex marriages at the Rotorua Museum in Rotorua on Monday New Zealand authorities reported a jump in applications for marriage licences for Monday - not a normally popular day of the week to wed.
Richard Rawstorn (L) with Richard Andrew walk down the isle after getting married during one of the country's first same-sex marriages at the Rotorua Museum in Rotorua on Monday Richard Rawstorn and Richard Andrew tied the knot in a joint ceremony with Jess Ives and Rachel Briscoe in one of the first same-sex ceremonies to take place
A flower guy spreads rose petals as he walks down the isle at the museum during the first same sex marriage at the Rotorua Museum in Rotorua on Monday The ceremony boasted a flower guy, rather than a flower girl
Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson (R) and his husband Justin Mikita arrive for the reception at the Air New Zealand hanger on August 19, 2013 in Auckland, New Zealand. Modern Family actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson, right, attended another ceremony with his husband Justin Mikita, left, whom he married in New York last month
A box containing sheaves of rose petals during the first same sex marriage at the Rotorua Museum in Rotorua on Monday Conservative groups have opposed the move, which is expected to draw same-sex couples from around the world to New Zealand

Same-sex couples from other countries are also expected to wed.

About 1,000 same-sex couples in Australia planned to travel to the neighbouring country to marry, according to the Australian Marriage Equality lobby group.

The first Australian couple to do so was expected to be Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler, who beat 300 other pairs to win a Tourism New Zealand competition.

Their wedding will not be legally recognised in their home country, but Mr McCarthy told AFP news agency the move was "both historically significant, and an important step in our personal lives".

The law change has angered some religious leaders, with the Anglican Church asking its ministers not to conduct the weddings pending a report to its general synod next year.

Catholic bishops have opposed the weddings outright while other denominations have been split.

New Zealand's MPs approved the bill by a large majority in April this year, with 77 votes in favour and 44 against.

The public gallery erupted broke into song after the announcement that the change had been passed, with a rendition of the traditional Maori love song, Pokarekare Ana.

Natasha Vitali (L) and Melissa Ray (R) exchange rings with marriage celebrant Rev Matt Tittle at the Auckland Unitary Church on August 19, 2013 in Auckland, New Zealand Auckland couple Tash Vitali and Melissa Ray - who won an all-expenses-paid ceremony in a radio competition - were among the first to marry

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