WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - New Zealand's Parliament has adopted legislation to legally recognize civil unions between same-sex partners.
The Civil Union Bill, which narrowly squeaked by at 65 votes to 55 on Thursday, gives gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples in areas such as child custody, property, taxes, retirement benefits and welfare.
The law, due to come into effect on May 1, doesn't change the country's marriage act, which will still apply only to men and women.
The issue provoked strong controversy, with critics arguing that it degraded traditional marriages and represented the first step toward allowing gay and lesbian marriages. Canada's Supreme Court on Thursday cleared the path for legislation approving same-sex marriages.
The minister in charge of the bill, David Benson-Pope, denied that the left-leaning Labor government of Prime Minister Helen Clark intends to legalize same-sex marriage.
The law "does not change or undermine marriage, or pose any danger to the family," he said.
Conservation Minister Chris Carter, who plans a civil union with his partner Peter Kaiser as soon as they become legal, told Parliament that history was being created.
"Today I sense tremendous joy and enthusiasm," he said. "We will have an opportunity we have always been denied."
A number of European countries allow same-sex civil unions, including Denmark, Sweden and Norway. In the United States, Massachusetts allows gay marriages and Vermont allows civil unions.
Read more info on: CBC.ca
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