First same-sex couples married in NZ

THE big day is here - it is now legal for same-sex couples to get married in New Zealand.

And there are many lining up to finally tie the knot, with almost 1000 marriage forms downloaded, four couples racing to be the very first and 31 ceremonies around the country.

One of the first same-sex couples to be married in New Zealand arrived to a huge welcome at the Unitarian Church in Ponsonby this morning.

Tash Vitali, 37, and Mel Ray, 29, arrived at the church about 8.15am where a large, colorful crowd had gathered.

Reverend Dr Matt Tittle, who will conduct the ceremony, said it was an honour.

"It's history in the making and hopefully it will help other countries to do the same and help New Zealanders to realise that everyone has worth and dignity no matter who they love.''

Labour MP Louisa Wall, who was responsible for the bill that legalised same-sex marriage, read the poem Touched By An Angel by Maya Angelou while Ms Ray and Ms Vitali waited.

Meanwhile, in the foyer of Rotorua Museum this morning, two couples are being married.

Jess Ivess and Rachel Briscoe from the Bay of Islands and Richard Rawstorn and Richard Andrew from Christchurch arrived in a white limousine to be married in front of about 100 people.

Just a few people arrived at the Department of Internal Affairs early this morning, in downtown Auckland, to pick up their marriage licenses.

An Australian couple who only wanted to be identified as Sarah and Emma cheered and clapped as they were given their papers.

The couple, in their twenties, hugged as others congratulated them.

The pair will marry in Auckland this afternoon. They said they could not speak to media until after that, as an Australian television show was covering their big day.

However, Emma said it was a wonderful acknowledgment of the gay community to be able to marry.

"It's nice to be attached to something very special," she said.

Others in line were representatives from the ZM radio station and Air NZ, who picked up licenses for ceremonies scheduled today.

Another couple, from the US, were the first gay couple married in the Department offices at 9am.

They declined to be interviewed, but said it was a privilege to be able to get married in another country.

"We just found this to be our best option...I never thought we would be here in New Zealand, but it's nice."

From the main centres, Auckland, Manukau, Christchurch and from Rotorua, Births, Deaths and Marriages has received 31 notice-of-intended-marriage forms.

In addition, the Government agency says 977 marriage forms were downloaded from its website last week, three times as many as normal.

Auckland couple Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau will marry on a flight between Queenstown and Auckland, with gay star of the US TV show Modern Family, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, in attendance. Ferguson yesterday said he couldn't quite articulate what it meant to marry his husband, Justin Mikita, who is with him in New Zealand. The couple married last month in New York.

"I don't know how to put it into words, it was such a profound moment ... I never even dreamed of calling someone my husband before ... so to stand in front of someone that I love so much with my family, my whole family and his whole family, present and to take those sacred vows that up until not too long ago I only reserved for same-sex couples, it was beyond anything I could have even dreamed of."

Ferguson, 37, has launched his own campaign, "Tie the Knot".

"I'm thrilled that there are so many people here in New Zealand who are so excited about marriage equality and also asking the question, 'Why has it taken this long?' So I think with each extra step it becomes more of a normality and it becomes less of an unknown."

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