Natasha Vitali and Melissa Ray, who won an all-expenses paid wedding through a local radio station, became the first same-sex couple in the South Pacific nation to legally marry when they exchanged vows at a church in Auckland, the country’s largest city, just before 9 a.m. local time (5 p.m. EST on Sunday.) “Modern Family” actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his husband, Justin Mikita, are among those who witnessed Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau exchange vows during a wedding that took place on an Air New Zealand flight from Queenstown to Auckland.
Tourism New Zealand sponsored the wedding of a gay Australian couple that took place in Wellington, the country’s capital.
“To be married at 30,000 feet beneath strings of fairy lights with our children, friends and family as witnesses makes an already memorable day that much more special,” Bendall, who has been with Wanikau for 13 years, said in an Air New Zealand press release.
Ferguson and Mikita congratulated the women before their wedding.
“Me and Justin Mikita are so excited to celebrate equality in [New Zealand] with Lynley and Ally at their wedding on [Air New Zealand,]” Ferguson said on his Twitter page.
A total of 31 same-sex couples are expected to marry in New Zealand on August 19.
Lesbian Parliamentarian Louisa Wall, who introduced the same-sex marriage bill that New Zealand lawmakers approved in April, attended Vitali and Ray’s wedding in Auckland.
“I feel very proud to have had my marriage equality bill pass through the New Zealand parliamentary process with support from across the House,” Wall told the Washington Blade. “Today we can celebrate the reality of our law change which allows any two people who love each other, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity to commit to one another in the institution of marriage.”
Jackie Russell-Green of the New Zealand Campaign for Marriage Equality also celebrated the gay nuptials law coming into effect.
“It’s a day that will be very special for all those who worked so hard to make marriage equality a reality,” she told the Blade.
New Zealand is among the 14 countries in which same-sex couples can legally marry.
13 states and D.C. and Mexico City have extended marriage rights to gays and lesbians.
Two gay men last month became the first legally recognized same-sex couple in Colombia when a judge in the country’s capital of Bogotá solemnized their relationship. Brazil’s National Council of Justice in May ruled registrars in the South American nation cannot deny marriage licenses to gays and lesbians.
The first same-sex marriages in England and Wales are expected to take place next spring after a gay nuptials bill received final approval in the British House of Lords in July.
“I hope those who have expressed opposition through the process are able to see how important this recognition of equality and human rights is to the family and friends of those who will marry and for the LGBTI community,” Wall told the Blade. “My hope is that the joy is contagious and shared by all New Zealanders.”