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New Zealand is the first country in Oceania, the fourth in the Southern Hemisphere, and the fifteenth overall to allow same-sex couples to marry.
It entered into force four months after assent, to allow time for the Department of Internal Affairs to make the necessary changes for marriage licensing and related documentation.
The applicants argued, however, that under the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, and sections 6 (Interpretation consistent with Bill of Rights to be preferred) and 19 (Freedom from discrimination) of the Bill of Rights Act, New Zealand prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and, therefore, the applicants should be allowed to marry.
The government in response cited section 5 (Justified limitations) of the Bill of Right Act, which allowed rights and freedoms in the Bill of Rights to "be subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society".
The case Quilter v Attorney-General had its origin in early 1996 when three female couples in long-term relationships were denied marriage licences by the Registrar-General because marriage under the common law was between one man and one woman.
The case against the government was taken to the High Court in May 1996.
In its decision, the High Court sided with the government and common law and reiterated that marriage is between one man and one woman.