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Gay marriage opponents are warning the day of reckoning is yet to come, but one MP who changed his vote at the 11th hour says he's happy with the decision.
A bill to legalise same-sex marriage passed in Parliament last night with 77 votes to 44.
While most people spent the night celebrating the historic move, Conservative Party leader Colin Craig said it was a failure of democracy.
"The day of reckoning on the redefinition of marriage is still to come," said Craig, who is not an MP.
"Last night was not a vote of the people of New Zealand. If it had been, the answer would have been no."
The matter should have been put to a referendum, instead the public would have their say at the election next year, he said.
National MP David Bennett voted against the bill through the first debates but changed his mind last night.
"I went to all the debates and listened to everybody and came to that conclusion [to support the bill]."
He had wanted a referendum but realised that was not going to happen.
Bennett also had concerns about the unfairness with adoption rules. Same-sex couples who get married will now be able to adopt but single people will still struggle.
"I think that still hasn't been sorted in the bill, but you know legislation that goes through Parliament is not always perfect so sometimes you've just got to go for the legislation even though you know it's got a few hiccups in it."
Meanwhile, news of New Zealand becoming the 13th country to legalise same-sex marriage has spread worldwide.
Irish singer Ronan Keating tweeted about Customs Minister Maurice Williamson's speech which he said was "simply brilliant".
While American actor Zach Braff tweeted "Congrats New Zealand. We follow you in time in more ways than one".
Christian lobby group Family First, which led the charge against the Bill, labelled it "shotgun" legislation and accused MPs of an "arrogant act of cultural vandalism".
Labour MP Su'a William Sio, who also opposed the bill, was more tempered.
Sio said he represented many of Labour's Pacific supporters in his decision to speak out against the Bill.
"From the outset I said this was not an issue that was a priority to members of my constituency," Sio told National Radio.
"Those same people are asking me, well, how many jobs were created as a result of this, does it raise income levels?"
While the passage of the bill was all but a done deal there was still plenty of raw emotion in the debate, lightened by humour - and some regrets before MPs exercised a rare conscience vote.
ACT leader John Banks, who as a former National MP was a leading opponent of decriminalising homosexuality in the 1980s, admitted his views had changed since he described the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform bill as evil and sickening.
After "three decades, and ten Parliaments, I have had time to reflect", he told Parliament.
"To reflect on what I said, and what I did.
"If I knew then, what I have learned since, I would have acted differently."
Queues started forming outside Parliament hours before last night's debate got underway and an extra screening room was set up to handle the overflow.
Around the country, people watched the vote screening live on big screen TVs and live internet feeds.
There were some harsh words, mainly for some of the Bill's staunch Christian opponents, who bombarded MPs in the final days before the vote with scripture and warnings about rotting in hell.
There were also angry words between MPs, with National MP Tau Henare in Parliament accusing his former leader in NZ First, Winston Peters, of being a shyster and pandering to rednecks.
But the issue also bought together MPs from all sides of the House in a rare show of cross-party activism.
Labour MP Louisa Wall, who promoted the bill, said allowing same-sex couples to marry meant a lot to gay couples.
''In our society the meaning of marriage is universal - it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person.''
Green MP Kevin Hague was almost lost for words but said this was the culmination of 27 years of work since homosexuality was decriminalised in 1986.
New Zealand became the 13th country legalise gay marriage but it will be August before the first same-sex weddings can be held.
The terms bride and groom will remain but people will be able to opt to use partner instead.
There are safeguards in the bill to prevent marriage celebrants from being forced to marry couples if it is against their religion.