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NZ MPs vote yes to prostitution

By CNN's Marianne Bray

New Zealand has around 8,000 prostitutes.
New Zealand has around 8,000 prostitutes.

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(CNN) -- New Zealand has voted to legalize prostitution by a margin of just one vote in a cliffhanger ballot that ended three years of fiery debate.

In the most intense lobbying seen since homosexuality was decriminalized 17 years ago, politicians voted Wednesday 60 to 59 in favor of the bill, with one abstention, according to the New Zealand Press Association.

The abstention was from New Zealand's only Muslim member of parliament, Ashraf Choudhary -- if he had not abstained the bill would have failed.

In pushing for the bill, politicians said that while they did not condone or condemn prostitution, they agreed it could be harmful to sex workers who should be protected under health and employment laws.

In an impassioned plea that sealed 415 hours of debate, former prostitute and the world's only known transsexual MP, back-bencher Georgina Beyer, urged politicians to vote in favor of the bill.

"I support this bill for all the prostitutes I have ever known who died before the age of 20 because of the inhumanity and hypocrisy of a society that would not allow them, or give them the chance, to ever redeem whatever circumstances made them arrive in that industry," Beyer told parliament.

The bill repeals bans on soliciting, pimping and running brothels. In their place it sets up a licensing regime for brothels, sets a minimum age of 18 and provides the same workplace protections as other sectors.

"If I had a law like this to protect me, when I was 16 or 17... I may have been able to approach the police and say I was raped, and yes, I am a prostitute, and no it was not right," Beyer added.

But some politicians were vehement in their opposition to the bill, saying it would promote prostitution as an acceptable profession.

"This is going to normalize the sex industry.... We are going to send a message to some it is ok to sell your body," said Peter Brown, a former seaman, and a member of parliament for the conservative New Zealand First party.

In the past five years alone, 354 people have been arrested for soliciting in New Zealand. There are an estimated 8,000 prostitutes working across in the country.


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