Emma Mansell 28 (left) and her partner Sarah-Louise Hopkins (right) in bushland in Seaforth, Sydney. The couple plan to travel to New Zealand before the end of the year to marry. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Wellington: An Australian couple will be among the first who will be able to change the phrase "I can't" to "I do" on Monday when same-sex marriage law comes into force in New Zealand.
Dozens of same-sex New Zealand couples, and a couple of Aussies, will collect marriage licences on Monday morning when April's law changes take effect, with nine couples planning registry weddings.
Newcastle pair Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler won a Tourism New Zealand holiday to cross the Tasman for their wedding.
Trent Kandler, left, and Paul McCarthy are an Australian couple who won an all-expenses-paid same-sex wedding in Wellington on Monday. Photo: Phil Reid
"We have been together for 11 years and the fact that we'll be the first to make a lifelong pledge to each other in somewhere as beautiful as New Zealand is both historically significant, and an important step in our personal lives," Mr McCarthy said.
Australian Marriage Equality (AME) has been contacted by almost 1000 Australian same-sex couples who intend to marry in New Zealand.
"The figure is high because Australian same-sex couples have been waiting for marriage equality in their own country for almost a decade now and some can't wait any longer," AME national director Rodney Croome said.
Births, Deaths and Marriages has been advised of 31 couples who plan to get hitched on day one of the new laws, but the actual number is likely to be higher as those figures only include the country's main centres.
The department says almost 1000 marriage forms have been downloaded from its website in the past week - three times the normal level.
More than 150 of those are for overseas couples planning to wed in New Zealand.
"There has clearly been interest from same-sex couples in New Zealand and also from overseas, to get married," Registrar-General Births, Deaths and Marriages, Jeff Montgomery said.
Around the country on Monday, winners of other competitions will exchange their vows, including one couple who will wed in the sky after winning an Air New Zealand contest.
The Rotorua Marriage Registry Office will open half an hour earlier to accommodate the 8.30am weddings of two couples.
The same-sex marriage laws passed through parliament on April, 17 by 77 votes to 44.
No marriage celebrant can be forced to perform same-sex marriages under the new legislation, and many churches have already ruled out allowing their officials to do so.
The new definition of marriage is "the union of two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity".
Not everyone's happy about the law changes though, with Family First NZ labelling the move to legalise same-sex marriage as an "arrogant act of cultural vandalism".