Twenty-three same-sex couples have said "I do" in Tauranga since the bill allowing gay marriage became law a year ago.

Since August 19, 2013, Department of Internal Affairs figures show 13 men have married a male partner in Tauranga and 10 females have married another woman.

Tauranga's same-sex nuptials make up only 2.5 per cent of the 926 same-sex couples married in New Zealand, one-quarter of which (237) were Australian.

However, Tauranga marriage celebrant Wendy Barton said enquiries about same-sex marriage officiating had exceeded her expectations.


She has married four or five same-sex couples, three of which made the trip from Australia.

"They've just given up that same-sex marriage will become legal in Australia," she said.

New Zealand was reaping the benefits of happy couples and their guests coming here to celebrate their wedding.

There were few differences in officiating heterosexual and same sex weddings, said Mrs Barton.

She said the journey to the altar had often been a tougher one for gay couples.

"Particularly for older people who in their teens and 20s were vilified for their relationships," she said.

"The feeling of the day and commitment and happiness is all exactly the same.

"It's about promising to be together through thick and thin. It's just about saying they'll trust and respect you and be there no matter what."


Couples often asked her to thank gay Labour MP Louisa Wall for driving the private member's bill through parliament.

"There's gratitude that someone took that on and really followed it through on their behalf," she said.

The same-sex ceremonies had ranged from two witnesses present to the flower girls and piper, she said.

Tauranga marriage celebrant Debbie Hunt has married five same-sex couples - three male and two female - but was expecting more.

"I thought it would have taken off a lot quicker. I thought when that law changed it would be 'bang' but it's just slowly and surely."

Same-sex marriage was still not as widely accepted as heterosexual marriage, she said.

"I think they'd have to be quite confident in their relationship. I do wonder if there's a lot that happen in the registry office," she said.

She thought numbers would increase this coming year.

Mrs Hunt said a same-sex ceremony had a totally different feel to a heterosexual one and was often very emotional.

For some of the couples, families coming together and accepting the relationship made it very special.

"They've probably had to do the hard yards to get there," she said.

Others married without the support of some, or all, of their family. "It can have such a huge impact. People don't choose who they fall in love with," she said.

Mrs Hunt said the women she had married were all dressed in beautiful dresses with hair, nails and make-up done and their fathers had walked them into the ceremony.

The men had worn "funky" suits and been walked in by their mother or alongside their partner.

In some cases, the words husband and wife were replaced with husband and husband or wife and wife, but in others they were referred to as lifelong partners.

Most had a best man or maid of honour of the opposite sex.

Prior to the same-sex marriage law being passed, Tauranga celebrant Carol Rickard had officiated a number of civil unions, later marrying one of the male couples.

"There wasn't this huge big influx of people wanting to get married. In saying that, it's just so nice that we now have equality in that area," she said.

Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages Jeff Montgomery said New Zealand was seeing continued national and international interest by same-sex couples in getting married in New Zealand.

"Almost 400 overseas couples have come to New Zealand to get married, which is great for our tourism industry."

Since the law was passed, 200 of the 532 Kiwi same-sex couples to marry have changed the form of their relationship from a civil union to a marriage.

Australians Gennaro Hellmanns and Brett Haythorpe also travelled to Tauranga in November 2013 to be married by Mrs Barton.

"We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful and peaceful ceremony," Mr Hellmanns told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

They had loved the area and took the opportunity for daily walks around Mauao.

"We often recommend to family and friends a visit to Tauranga."

Mr Hellmanns said being legally married meant having the same rights, opportunities and sense of equality as heterosexual couples.

"We have a strong commitment and appreciation to our marriage, which I believe has been strengthened by the fact it's a new privilege we now have and deserve."

The couple are now fulfilling a dream of living in New York and may return to Australia one day to live on a farm with their dog Tess.