New Zealand's Parliament Passes 1st Stage Of Same-sex Marriage Law
|Louisa Wall, Member of Parliament, NZ|
WELLINGTON, NZ -- New Zealand's Parliament Wednesday in a 80 to 40 vote passed the first of three votes lawmakers must hold before a proposed same-sex marriage bill can become law. Should Parliament pass the measure into law, New Zealand would become the 12th country since 2001 to recognise same sex marriage.
The legislative process typically takes several months and asks for public opinion to weigh in during a series of consultations. Only a simple majority will be needed to ensure a successful second vote, and Wednesday's margin shows that there is enough support for the measure in Parliament that it can be passed.
Recent Polling indicates that about two-thirds of New Zealanders support same-sex marriage, which has also garnered the support of a majority of the country’s political leaders from all parties.
New Zealand, since 2005, has had same-sex civil union laws that confer many legal rights to same-sex couples, although LGBTQ equality rights activists claim that those laws don’t give them equal footing in terms of social status. One important change under this proposed measure would allow same sex married couples to jointly adopt a child, which is not allowed under current laws.
Politicians and activists all agreed that the change in the country's political climate was a result of U. S. President Barack Obama's declaration in May voicing his support of same-sex couples gaining the legal right to marriage.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who had been silent on the issue, publicly stated that he was “not personally opposed” to the idea. Louisa Wall, an openly lesbian member of Parliament for Labour, put forward the bill after Key's statement saying “the timing was right.”
Wall’s ‘Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill’, which will now be looked at by a select committee in Parliament before being voted on again, aims to amend the country’s Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.
Immediately after the vote was tallied, Wall said,
“Tonight is an historic moment for New Zealanders and a step toward the legal recognition that loving couples, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, should be able to marry.
History tells us that the struggles for the gay community, as with any minority, have often been cruel. What has been heartening in this discussion has been the positive response from younger people across the board.
It is a generational issue, but it is also an issue about personal experience, and the fact that when you have a friend or a whanau [Maori for family] member who is gay, you don’t want them to suffer or have less rights than you. That is not fair or just.”
Wall acknowledged that she’s gotten thousands of emails both supporting and opposing her stance on same-sex marriage, including some hate mail. This week, opponents of her bill presented a petition to MP's signed by 50,000 people. Bob McCoskrie, founder of the conservative christian group Family First, which helped organize the petition, said civil unions go far enough in providing legal rights to same-sex couples and there’s no need to redefine marriage.
“Equality doesn’t mean sameness,” he said. “Marriage has always been about the relationship of a man and a woman because of their natural potential to have children.”
Wall’s bill makes it clear that a religious minister will not be forced to marry same-sex couples – they can refuse.
“Because we have freedom of religion in New Zealand, no religious body is bound to marry a couple if that marriage is at odds with their religion’s belief,” she said.
Same-sex marriage is currently recognised in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. Several other countries, including France, are considering making it legal.