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Civil unions and same-sex marriages (SSM) in New Zealand

2012-AUG: Same-sex marriage bill introduced
to Parliament. MP's votes. Some reactions.

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2012-AUG: Introduction of bill to legalize same-sex marriage:

There is speculation that U.S. President Obama's personal support for marriage equality motivated center-right Prime Minister John Key to say that he was "not personally opposed" to a law legalizing SSM in New Zealand. This in turn may have prompted Louisa Wall, 40, a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Labour Party who is openly gay, to attempt to introduce a bill into Parliament that she had previously written. 1 She was lucky because her bill to legalize SSM was one of several picked at random from a group of other private members' bills in late 2012-JUL. 2 She told the Associated Press:

"If I'm really honest, I think the catalyst was around Obama's announcement, and then obviously our prime minister came out very early in support, as did the leader of my party, David Shearer. The timing was right."

3 News has a video of Wall's presentation of her bill to Parliament on their website, along with many other related videos. 3

She has receive thousands of emails concerning her bill. As one might expect, some were positive, some negative, and some full of hatred.

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2012-AUG: The bill, the MP's vote and a petition:

The bill is titled: "Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act of 2012." A PDF copy is available on the New Zealand Parliamentary Counsel Office's web site. 4

By a vote of 80 in favor, 40 opposed, and with one abstension, members of the New Zealand Parliament gave the first reading to Wall's bill to legalize same-sex marriage (SSM). Only 61 votes (50% plus one) was needed to allow the bill to progress. A hearing before a select committee and two more successful votes in Parliament are neccessary before the bill could be signed into law. 1

Family First, the main conservative Christian group in New Zealand opposed to marriage equality, referred to the vote as "... a near-landslide last night, with a conscience vote on Labour MP Louisa Wall’s bill passing before a packed public gallery at Parliament." 5 A "conscience vote" allows individual MP's the freedom to deviate from their party's position and vote entirely according to their conscience. For normal legislation, MPs are expected to vote according to the dictates of their party.

Bob McCoskrie, founder of the conservative para-church group Family First, helped organize a petition for persons opposed to SSM. The petition drive accumulated 50,000 signatures which were presented to Members of Parliament. The population of New Zealand in 2011 was 4.4 million, so this number of signature represents on the order of 4% of the total number of adults in the country -- a significant accomplishment. He said:

"Equality doesn't mean sameness. Marriage has always been about the relationship of a man and a woman because of their natural potential to have children." 6

His statement seems to overlooks three facts:

  1. Some opposite-sex couples are infertile and unable to have children by themselves. Yet we allow opposite-sex couples who are infertile because of age or medical problems to marry.
  2. Same-sex lesbian couples can have children through assisted reproduction procedures, or by adoption.
  3. Same-sex gay couples can have children through a surrogate mother or by adoption.

The bill was sent to a select committee for public submissions. As in other jurisdictions where SSM has been legalized, strong emotional arguments are expected among the general public, religious leaders, and legislators in New Zealand:

  • Many religious conservatives are convinced that God strongly disagrees with SSM, Some of them fear that He will invoke divine retribution on all New Zealanders, perhaps through natural disasters, like earthquakes or typhoons.

  • Many in the LGBT community and civil libertarians seek same-sex marriage because of the protections it would give to same-sex couples and their children, as well as achieving equal status in the community compared to opposite-sex couples. Like any other group that is denied equal rights, discrimination is a powerful motivator to seek equality.

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Reactions to the SSM bill by Members of Parliament (MPs):

  • Prime Minister John Key was out of the country attending the Pacific Island Forum when the first reading of the bill occurred. He arranged to cast a proxy vote in favor of the bill, He said that the vote result was:

    "... a strong endorsement for the equality of rights. It was an overwhelming result and I think it puts the bill in a pretty strong place to potentially become law, given you've had two-thirds of Parliament voting for it. ... I think New Zealand's always been a country that's really stood up for equality of rights and egalitarian society, being the first country to give women the vote. We've been making slow progress in a number of other areas. ... All I've said to my MPs is 'I think you should exercise your conscience as you see fit and do what you believe is right'." 7

He expects that  the debate will grow louder and get "quite ferocious" as the bill progresses.

Key doesn't see the need for any amendments to the bill, He said the bill is:

"... relatively straightforward. Essentially it is mirroring the rights [for same-sex couples] that a heterosexual couple have." 7

  • MP John Hayes voted against the bill. He delivered a speech in Parliament saying, in part:

    "Many of my constituents believe that marriage was introduced into society through religious channels and religion shows marriage not to have anything to do with same-sex partnerships. For these people it is not possible for marriage to be redefined beyond the boundaries of a woman and a man. They worry that if marriage is redefined once, it could continue to be redefined. They see this bill as legalising by stealth the adoption of children by gay parents. They fear the extension of boundaries to include relationships we do not as a society currently condone: polygamous relationships and incestuous relationships. These are very genuine concerns to many of my constituents. 8

  • David Shearer, MP, who leads the Labour Party, said that same-sex marriage is ''the reality of our times'' and should become law.

  • Su’a William Sio, another MP from the Labour Party. disagrees with most of the other members of his party. He expressed concern that the bill could trigger a backlash among the public against his party. He said:

    "It is a difficult issue and the views are very divided. By passing this legislation we not only change the definition of marriage, we change its meaning and the fundamental basis of marriage. ... This change will have enduring ramifications for future generations." 9

  • Bill English, the Deputy Prime Minister, said that SSM is ''not that important.'' He ''thought the problem [of equality] had been solved'' with civil unions.

  • MP Richard Prosser, from the New Zealand First party said that he has "nothing against gays.'' However, he will be voting against the bill to ''preserve the institution of marriage'' for heterosexuals only. 10 His reasons for wanting to maintain marriage as an exclusive privilege of persons with a heterosexual orientation seem to have been not reported in the media.

  • MP Christ Finlayson from the National Party, who is openly gay, favors civil unions over SSM for LGBTs. He said:

    "You register unions and you leave marriage to the church, temples, [and] mosques." 11

  • MP Tim Macindoe, also from the National Party, said same-sex relationships are:

    "... intrinsically different. ... [Thus they could] never be regarded as true marriage. ... The nature of marriage should not be interfered with." 12

  • On the other hand, MP Nikki Kaye who is also from the National Party said the bill would give "dignity and acceptance" to a minority who had recently been criminalised for the people they loved.

  • MP Kevin Hague of the Green Party, who is openly gay, said that he and his partner once were subject to being fired from their jobs, arrested, and imprisoned because of their sexual orientation. He said that the bill would implement marriage equality and would: "...right an injustice and harm absolutely no-one."

  • MP David Clark of the Labour Party is a former Presbyterian Minister. He said that he had been convinced by the arguments in favor of marriage equality and supported the bill.

  • All six MPs of the NZ First party voted against the bill. The party leader, Winston Peters, believes that the public should vote on a referendum before the bill could become law. He said:

    There is still an assumption in this House that members know better than the public when it comes to issues of morality. That is an archaic belief that has no place in a modern democracy. This matter is by definition one of public morality ... it must be decided by the public. 12

    Webmaster's comment: Bias alert: With a poll showing that that New Zealand adults favor SSM by a ratio of 2 to 1, it would seem that a referendum would be a waste of money. It would also raise the thorny question of whether the public has the right to prevent a minority in the country from enjoying rights equal to those ejnoyed by the majority.

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How you got here:

Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > New Zealand > here

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Nick Perry, "New Zealand Gay Marriage: 1st Stage Of New Law Passed," Huffington Post, 2012-AUG-29, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  2. "New Zealand lawmakers to debate gay marriage bill," Huffington Post, 2012-AUG-25, at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/
  3. "Same-sex marriage bill first reading - full video," with many related videos, 3 News, 2012-AUG-30, at: http://www.3news.co.nz/
  4. Louisa Wall. "Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill," introduced 2012-JUL-26, at: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/
  5. Bob, "Marriage bill to go to select committee," Family First, 2012-AUG-30, at: http://familyfirst.org.nz/
  6. Don Avery, 2012-AUG-30, Queerty, at: http://www.queerty.com
  7. Laura Mcquillan, "Gay marriage scrap will be 'ferocious' - PM," 2012-AUG-31, at: http://www.3news.co.nz/
  8. "John Hayes opposes Marriage Amendment Bill, Wairarapa Times-Age, 2012-AUG-30, at: http://www.times-age.co.nz/
  9. "New Zealand set to join nations with gay marriage law," The Scotsman, 2012-AUG-30, at: http://www.scotsman.com/
  10. "New Zealand Parliament to vote on SSM," National Organization for Marriage, 2012-JUL-28, at: http://www.nomblog.com/
  11. "Gay marriage support gaining momentum," 3 News, 2012-AUG-29, at: http://www.3news.co.nz/
  12. John Harevelt & Sam Boyer, "Marriage bill to go to select commitee," Stuff Politics, 2012-AUG-30, at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/

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Originally posted: 2012-AUG-30
Latest update: 2012-AUG-30
Author: B.A. Robinson
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