New Zealand became the first nation in Asia-Pacific to host same-sex weddings on Monday after parliament passed a law in April amending the country’s 1955 marriage act to include gays and lesbians. Beyond the obvious benefits to same-sex couples in the remote Pacific nation, New Zealand hopes that the new law will attract hordes of tourists from Australia and beyond and serve as a point of differentiation between it and its more famous neighbor.
On Monday, 31 same-sex couples were expected to get married, according to the Department of Internal Affairs, including Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler of Newcastle, Australia. The couple of 15 years beat 300 other pairs to win a “Make History” competition from Tourism New Zealand for an all-expenses paid wedding in the capital, Wellington. The competition was one of nearly a half-dozen others like it, all hoping to capitalize on the tourism potential of New Zealand’s same-sex marriage law.
“We have been together for 11 years and have been waiting for the chance to make our commitment official,” McCarthy said in a statement. “We feel extremely fortunate to have been the very first Australian same-sex couple to be legally allowed to marry in New Zealand. Wellington has welcomed us with open arms, and we have been blown away by the vibrancy of the city.”
Tim Burgess, Tourism New Zealand’s general manager in Australia, said he hoped more Australian couples would take the three-hour flight across the Tasman to tie the knot.
"The recent decision to amend the definition of marriage in New Zealand has been widely welcomed by supporters of same-sex marriage, with many commentators throughout the world congratulating New Zealand for being progressive,” he noted. "The significant attention the change of legislation received in Australia has provided a great platform to further promote New Zealand as a wedding and honeymoon destination for anyone and everyone.”
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Tourism New Zealand’s new ads under the banner “100% Pure Choice” -- a play on its longstanding “100% Pure” marketing campaign -- appear to have paid off. The Australian Marriage Equality lobby group expects some 1,000 same-sex couples to travel to the neighboring country to marry, despite the fact that their weddings won't be legally recognized in their home country.
“We know that many hundreds of Australian same-sex couples will fly to New Zealand to wed and spend their money,” the lobby group’s national director, Rodney Croome, said Sunday. “By not moving forward on marriage equality [in Australia] our politicians are effectively exporting money and jobs to New Zealand.”
Air New Zealand also took aim at Australian wallets when it launched its own promotional campaign around the new law, sponsoring the mid-air wedding of Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau on a flight from Queenstown to Auckland, replete with special guest of honor Jesse Tyler Ferguson of the Emmy award-winning comedy series “Modern Family.”
“The atmosphere onboard was incredibly festive and the applause following the couple’s vows was heartfelt,” Lorraine Murphy, Air New Zealand chief people officer, said. “It was a great celebration of New Zealand’s diversity.”
The flag carrier also launched a “sharing the love” promotion targeting Australians with $150 off return flights to both the North and South Islands.
New Zealand is now the 14th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage, and the Department of Internal Affairs said it has received overseas interest not only from Australia but also Russia, the United States, Britain, Belgium, Guyana, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
Tourism New Zealand CEO Kevin Bowler said he couldn’t put a figure to the expected economic benefits of same-sex marriage but was looking forward to finding out.
“We’re not really sure what the absolute value is, but we do know that New Zealand is a great place for honeymoons -- something like 40,000 couples a year come to New Zealand to have their honeymoon here,” Bowler said on the early morning TV talk show "Firstline." “I think a lot of marketers underestimate the value of same-sex couples, and I think that's something that as an industry, we probably need to get a better understanding of."