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Same-sex couples tie knot in New Zealand

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    Richard Rawstorn and Richard Andrew from Christchurch, and Jess Ives and Rachel Briscoe from the Bay of Islands celebrate during the first same sex wedding in Rotorua, New Zealand, on August 19, 2013. (AFP)

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    Jess Ives and Rachel Briscoe are among the first gay New Zealand couples to tie the knot, on August 19, 2013. More than 30 same-sex couples are due to say 'I do' on Monday. (AFP)

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    Richard Rawstorn and Richard Andrew celebrate after being married in New Zealand on August 19, 2013. The country is the first Asia Pacific nation to allow same-sex marriage. (AFP)

Dozens of same-sex couples said "I do" Monday as New Zealand became the first Asia-Pacific country, and only the 14th in the world, to legalise gay marriage.

Vows were exchanged in venues ranging from an airliner cruising at 30,000 feet (9,150 metres) to a historic bath house as gay men and women took advantage of the law change.

The Campaign For Marriage Equality said it ended an historical injustice and meant the love of all people was recognised as equal in the eyes of the law.

"A massive congratulations to the happy couples tying the knot today. Marriage equality has finally arrived in New Zealand," spokesman Conrad Reyners said.

The amendment to the Marriage Act was passed by parliament in April but did not come into effect until Monday.

Two radio stations competed to host the first same-sex wedding, with the ceremonies broadcast live during their breakfast programmes.

In reality, the nuptials took place around the same time, at 8.30 am Monday (2030 GMT Sunday), after the government offices that issue marriage licences had opened.

Reverend Matt Tittle from Auckland's Unitarian Church married one of the couples, Tash Vitali, 37, and Mel Ray, 29.

"It's history in the making," he said. "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."

Air New Zealand staged a special flight from Auckland to Queenstown where Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau tied the knot in the air after 14 years together, with American actor Jesse Tyler Ferguson from the hit comedy "Modern Family" in attendance.

"To be married at 30,000 feet beneath strings of fairy lights with our children, friends and family as witnesses makes an already memorable day that much more special," Bendall said.

"It was surreal to have Jesse play a part in the ceremony too."

However, conservative lobby group Family First said changing the Marriage Act was "an arrogant act of cultural vandalism" that politicians had pushed through without a public mandate.

"Social engineers including politicians and activists are expecting marriage supporters to drop their deeply held convictions because of the misguided decisions of politicians," national director Bob McCoskrie said.

The Anglican Church has also asked its ministers to refrain from conducting same-sex weddings pending a report to its general synod next year.

New Zealand decriminalised homosexuality in 1986 and has allowed same-sex civil unions since 2005.