By Peter Wilson, NZN Political Writer
The gay marriage bill is safely through another stage in Parliament and only needs to pass its third reading to become law.
During its committee stage this evening opponents put up a raft of amendments and all of them were heavily defeated.
The vote that gave the bill the green light for a third reading was 77-43.
A bid by NZ First leader Winston Peters to hold up the bill by forcing a referendum on gay marriage was ruled out of order on the grounds that Parliament had already decided it should proceed by passing the bill on its second reading.
Mr Peters had argued gay marriage was so divisive it shouldn't be decided by 121 MPs and warned that without a clear public mandate politicians would be targets of bitter recrimination.
Amendments that were put to a vote focused on protecting the right of celebrants to refuse to marry gay couples.
The bill already carries an explicit provision protecting church celebrants and says no celebrant is obliged to conduct a gay marriage, but concerns were voiced that there could still be legal problems.
Most MPs didn't agree and the amendments were voted down.
Now the bill is through its committee stage, no further attempt can be made to change it.
The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was drafted by Labour MP Louisa Wall and passed its first reading on a vote of 80-40.
Its majority dropped to 77-44 on its second reading and supporters think a few more MPs might change their minds before the third reading - but not enough to stop it becoming law.
As MPs debated the bill, several hundred supporters and opponents demonstrated outside Parliament.
Opponents held prayer vigils and waved placards saying "Kids need Mom and Dad" while supporters draped in rainbow flags chanted "human rights, human rights".
The third reading vote is expected to be taken in the second half of next month.
MPs are casting conscience votes on the bill, with no direction from their parties.