'Gay Vegas' reputation has global reach

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Lincoln Tan 5:00 AM Saturday Sep 19, 2015

Same-sex couples fighting laws in own countries flock to Auckland to get married and have or adopt children.

My Kitchen Rules stars Tresne Middleton and Carly Saunders couldn't marry in Australia so had their ceremony on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied
My Kitchen Rules stars Tresne Middleton and Carly Saunders couldn’t marry in Australia so had their ceremony on Waiheke Island. Photo / Supplied

Auckland is being seen as the “gay Vegas” and homosexual couples from around the world are coming here to get married and have children.

Many come from countries where a same-sex relationship is considered illegal – including Singapore, Malaysia and China – or nations such as Australia, where “commitment ceremonies” are popular but do not satisfy everyone.

Australians top the list of same-sex couples coming here to tie the knot, as their country does not recognise marriage between male or female couples.

Two stars of the television show My Kitchen Rules, Carly Saunders and Tresne Middleton, got married in secret on Waiheke Island last year. They were among the 500 Australians who have married here since August 2013, when the law changed.

Couples from China, the United Kingdom and Singapore have also made the journey.

Over the same period, seven children were registered to foreign male couples through adoption and one, by birth, to a female couple from Singapore.

Gay bartender Stanley Chan, 29, who spoke to the Herald in Singapore, said Auckland was considered the “Las Vegas for gay, lesbians and transgenders”.

Las Vegas is a popular marriage destination because of the ease of registering marriages there.

Like 28 Singaporean couples already, Chan and his British-born partner will be coming to Auckland in December to wed.

“I see New Zealand as a gay paradise and on what I hope will be the happiest day of my life, I want to be able to go to a place where I can celebrate our love in the open,” he said.

“In Singapore, we have to live in a secret underground world because the silly laws make it impossible for me to even openly disclose that I’m gay.”

Under section 377a of the penal code of Singapore, a man who has sex with another man can be imprisoned for up to two years.

Last year, two Singaporeans became the first female couple to have their child born in New Zealand and registered to both of them as parents.

The couple also met the Herald in Singapore but changed their minds about being interviewed because they felt it could hurt their business and land them in trouble with the law.

However, they said the main reason they chose to have their child in New Zealand was so they could have a birth certificate that listed both of them as parents.

“In Singapore, he would have been registered as a son of a single parent and it would not have correctly reflected our situation,” the birth mother of the child said.

Social worker Yangfa Leow, 40, the executive director of Oogachaga, which counsels and supports LGBTs (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people) in Singapore, said legal adoption there was usually allowed only for married, opposite-sex couples and single women.

This has resulted in same-sex couples finding alternative ways to include children in their lives and commit to each other, such as going to countries such as New Zealand where these are legally recognised.

The ease of exchanging vows in NZ has the LGBT community comparing it to Las Vegas.
The ease of exchanging vows in NZ has the LGBT community comparing it to Las Vegas.

“I understand that New Zealand has legalised marriage for same-sex couples, which of course is the right thing to do in terms of ensuring equality for all,” Leow said.

Last year, Lonely Planet named New Zealand the second most gay-friendly place in the world, behind Copenhagen in Denmark.

Tourism New Zealand said it did not specifically target the gay and lesbian community, but promoted the country as a great destination for weddings and honeymoons for all travellers.

Between 30,000 and 45,000 honeymooners from overseas came to New Zealand each year, spending an estimated $160 million.

After the passing of the Marriage Amendment Act, Tourism NZ ran a campaign to show how easy it is for same-sex couples from Australia to marry in New Zealand.

“There was a very positive response from same-sex couples in Australia,” said Tourism NZ spokeswoman Deborah Gray.

She said visitors were not asked to identify their sexual orientation, so there was “no robust data” to gauge the value of gay tourists.

Brett O’Riley, Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development chief executive, said the organisation was supporting several gay-friendly tourism operators who directly target the gay market.

“We understand after the gay marriage legislation passed that a number of couples did see New Zealand as a destination to say ‘I do’ and gain legal marriage status, where their home countries may not allow them similar rights.”

Gay marriages in NZ

(since August 2013)

Female-Female

• From Australia: 264

• From China: 32

• From the UK: 22

• From Singapore: 17

• From the US: 8

• From Malaysia: 8

• From the entire world: 411

Male-Male

• From Australia: 236

• From China: 34

• From the UK: 13

• From the US: 13

• From Singapore: 11

• From Hong Kong: 11

• From Thailand: 10

• From the entire world: 401
(source: Dept of Internal Affairs)

Lincoln Tan travelled to Singapore with the help of the Asia New Zealand Foundation.

NZ Herald

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