Same-sex couples celebrate wedded bliss

By Amelia Wade, Matthew Theunissen, Vaimoana Tapaleao, Rotorua Daily Post staff

It could have been any other wedding, except for a few variations like "I now pronounce you wife and wife" and cheers of "hip-hip, gay" at the reception.

But Tash Vitali and Mel Ray made history when they tied the knot today, becoming among the first same-sex couples in New Zealand to be legally married.

Their marriage licence was picked up from the Department of Internal Affairs the minute it opened at 8.30am and was whisked up to the Auckland Unitary Church in Ponsonby by motorbike.

The congregation cheered as it was brought into the church as Reverend Dr Matt Tittle conducted the ceremony.

"I am honoured to pronounce you wife and wife," said Dr Tittle.

"You may now each kiss your bride."

Speaking outside, he said he was honoured to preside over the wedding.

"It's history in the making and hopefully it will help other countries to do the same and help New Zealanders to realise that everyone has worth and dignity no matter who they love."

Tash Vitali said she was "so excited" and proud to be among the first gay couples to marry in New Zealand.

"It feels pretty cool. It's overwhelming. This must be what famous people feel like with all these cameras in your face."

Labour Party MP Louisa Wall, whose bill to legalise same-sex marriage was passed into law in April, said today's ceremony was what all her hard work had been about.

"Up until this point in time it's all been theoretical, debating about what this might mean, and I think today we've seen exactly what it's all about: celebration of family, friends, commitment and love."

But there was still much to do to get equality for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community, she said.

"There's been a philosophical analysis about this being about Western liberalism and not about universal human rights for all human beings. And I think the push back from countries like Russia really needs to be challenged globally."

The couple rode to Auckland waterfront on a horse-drawn carriage where the reception kicked off at the Cloud on Queens Wharf, hosted by Auckland drag queen Miss Ribena.

"I've been on the gay scene for 22 years so for this day to come at last is just fabulous," Miss Ribena said.

A few people arrived at the Department of Internal Affairs in downtown Auckland this morning to pick up their marriage licences.

An Australian couple who wanted to be identified only as Sarah and Emma, in their 20s, cheered and clapped as they were given their papers.

The pair, who will marry in Auckland this afternoon, said they could not speak to media until after that, as an Australian television show was covering their big day.

However, Emma said it was a wonderful acknowledgment of the gay community to be able to marry.

"It's nice to be attached to something very special," she said.

Another couple, from the US, were the first gay couple married in the department offices at 9am.

They declined to be interviewed, but said it was a privilege to be able to get married in another country.

"We just found this to be our best option...I never thought we would be here in New Zealand, but it's nice."

SKY WEDDING

Thousands of feet up in the air, Auckland couple Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau became one of the first same sex couples in New Zealand to be legally wed this morning.

The couple exchanged pounamu necklaces instead of rings after pledging their commitment and love for one another in front of their family, friends and swathe of media on board an Air New Zealand flight from Queenstown.

Cheers, applause and whistles erupted as the celebrant, Kim Jewel Elliot, proclaimed: "You are married!''. The champagne then started flowing and stewardesses handed out canapes.

Modern Family star and marriage equality advocate Jesse Tyler Fergusson, who also recently married, was a guest at the ceremony and toasted the newlyweds at the reception in a hangar at Auckland Airport.

Ms Bendall said the whole morning had been "overwhelming'' but was clearly extremely pleased to finally be able to marry her partner of 14 years.

"It's the fact we're finally equal,'' she said.

After cutting their rainbow cake and tossing their bouquets from a ladder next to the black plane, Ms Bendall and Ms Wanikau celebrated with their loved ones. As part of Air NZ's wedding package, the couple will have their honeymoon in Palm Springs.

The couple won the Love is in the Air competition after their three young children made a video about why their wanted their mums to be married.

ROTORUA MUSEUM PLAYS PART

On the first day that same sex couples can legally get married in New Zealand, Rotorua Museum has been part of a history-making event, with two couples tying the knot there this morning.

The couples, Rachel Briscoe and Jess Ivess, from the Bay of Islands, and Richard Rawstorn and Richard Andrew, from Christchurch, won a competition run by The Edge radio station to win their `all-expenses paid' wedding, which was broadcast live on both national TV and radio.

The couples were in Rotorua for over a week prior to their nuptials, planning their weddings, hosting their hen and stag dos and enjoying some of the region's activities and attractions. The Museum was the venue for both the ceremony and the wedding breakfast.

"The couples have become quite the celebrities,'' said Rotorua Museum sales and marketing manager Joanna Doherty.

"They were at the museum for a full day last week doing a commercial photo shoot and we have had significant interest from media both in New Zealand and overseas.

"The museum looked absolutely stunning. The outside was lit up in rainbow colours the night before, inside the venue were dashes of blue light on the walls, and pink on the sculptures, to match the colour themes chosen by the couples.''

The atmosphere at the museum was amazing with guests and onlookers giving a rousing cheer as the formal nuptials were completed and again when the legal documentation arrived for signing.

A TV documentary will be screening on TV2`s 20/20 programme on Thursday following both couples and capturing the excitement of the competition, the planning, and finally the ceremony.

- NZ Herald

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