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New Zealand legalizes same-sex marriage, which will begin in August | UPDATED with VIDEO

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – MPs overwhelmingly voted, 77-44, on Wednesday to approve marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples in New Zealand.

The third and final vote was largely ceremonial, since MPs had easily passed the first two readings. The bill now goes to the governor-general for royal assent, which is a mere formality.

Same-sex marriages will begin in August.

Around New Zealand, gay bars and restaurants held parties and showed the live telecast of the vote in Parliament. The Auckland University Students' Association hosted a party at the campus bar, Shadows. In Wellington, Scotty and Mal's Lounge Bar tuned their big screens to watch Parliament's historic vote.

The sponsor of the "Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill" is Labour Party MP Louisa Wall, who is a lesbian and who wore a rainbow top today in Parliament.

“Marginalizing and discriminating against particular sectors do not benefit society and families,” she said during the final debate. “It is a simple choice; do we support discriminatory laws or not? I know I don’t and hopefully that is true of most of the members of this house.

"Nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill," Wall told her fellow MPs.

MP Kevin Hague of the Green Party shared a story of how he met his partner 28 years ago and how their relationship was considered illegal. He said he was thrilled that his relationship will now be honored, but was sad that his parents didn't live long enough to witness this day in history.

Opposition to the bill came from conservative religious groups, including the Roman Catholic Church, and Family First.

MPs are not likely to feel much backlash from voters, since polls show that about two-thirds of New Zealanders approve of marriage equality. New Zealand has provided civil unions since 2005.

New Zealand becomes the first nation in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage and only the second Commonwealth country, following the lead of Canada.

Pressure turns up in Australia

The vote to legalize marriage equality in New Zealand will ratchet up the pressure on Australian lawmakers. Several states have introduced marriage equality bills, but the national government remains reluctant to discuss the issue.

Rodney Croome, spokesman for Australian Marriage Equality, said thousands of Australian gay and lesbian couples would fly to nearby New Zealand to get married. Here is his statement today:

The majority of Australians who support marriage equality will be happy for New Zealand but deeply embarrassing their own country is lagging so far behind.

This will be a game changer in Australia because of the close links between our two countries.

New Zealand shows how reform can be achieved when national leaders put politics aside and work together, unlike Australia's leaders who are still playing politics with marriage equality.

In particular, Coalition leader, Tony Abbott, has a lesson to learn from New Zealand's conservative Prime Minister, John Key, who allowed his party a conscience vote, in contrast to Abbott's Coalition which does not let its members vote for this reform.

As same-sex couples begin to marry, New Zealand will also show those Australians who are still conflicted about marriage equality that they have nothing to fear.

With marriage equality now just three hours away by plane, those Australian same-sex couples who are tired of waiting will marry in New Zealand instead.

Sadly, the moment they walk back through Australian customs their solemn vows of life-long commitment will count for nothing and they will be considered legal strangers by their own government.

It is estimated that Australian same-sex couples would spend $700 million on their weddings if they were allowed to marry, but now New Zealand will get a significant slice of money that should be spent here.

Where marriage equality exists

Same-sex marriage is legal in Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, the Netherlands (and the Caribbean island of Saba), Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay (later this year).

In Mexico, same-sex marriage is available in the Federal District (Mexico City) and in the states of Oaxaca and Quintana Roo. The marriages are recognized nationwide by Supreme Court order.

In Brazil, same-sex marriage is legal in the states of Alagoas, Bahia and São Paulo. Elsewhere in Brazil, same-sex couples can enter into a "stable union" then go before a judge and convert the union into a full marriage.

In the United States, same-sex marriage is legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and Washington -- and in Washington, D.C. It also is legal within the Coquille Indian tribe in Oregon, the Suquamish Indian tribe in Washington state and the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan.