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New Zealand one vote away from legalizing marriage equality

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- MPs voted 77-44 on Wednesday to advance a bill that would bring marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples in New Zealand.

The third and final vote is expected to come in April, and passage is all but assured.

If the bill is approved, the law will go into effect in August.

MP Louisa Wall, who is gay, is the bill's sponsor. She opened debate on Wednesday by wrapping up the whole issue in one sentence: "It's not about gay marriage, same-sex marriage or straight marriage," Wall said. "It's about equality."

A clear minority of MPs voted against the bill, and some argued the measure would undermine traditional marriage and families.

NZ First leader Winston Peters sought a national referendum on marriage equality, but his proposal was voted down 83-33.

MPs likely will not feel any backlash from voters, since polls show that about two-thirds of New Zealanders approve of marriage equality. Since 2005, New Zealand has provided civil unions for gay and lesbian couples