LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa)
: Kia ora, Mr Speaker.
Tēnā koutou katoa. I move,
That the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Government Administration Committee to consider the bill.
I am proud to be the sponsor of this bill before the House, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, which seeks to define marriage as between two people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is generally known as the bill that will enable marriage equality between consenting adults, underpinned by principles of love, fairness, and equality of opportunity for all New Zealand citizens. The bill has attracted passionate reactions from a number of quarters, and the result of
that passion has seen statements that reflect a diversity of opinions across our society. This ability to engage and to make a statement and to have a say about this issue is fundamental. I want to highlight that this is an important aspect of a modern, democratic society.
The starting point for this bill rests with our role on the international stage. In 1944, when the founding document of the United Nations, the United Nations Charter, was being developed, New Zealand pushed for a stronger focus on human rights, and in 1948 we again played an important and effective role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We saw the need for such a declaration and participated in its instigation and development. This is not surprising, given that we led the world in enabling women to have the right to vote. We did that in 1893, and it took the United States another 27 years to reach that same point.
That sexual orientation is a ground of unlawful discrimination is not a matter of dispute. In 1993 we as a country amended the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 to outlaw discrimination on a wider variety of grounds, including sexual orientation. This is what we must always remember when we discuss this issue. This issue will make all citizens and people of New Zealand equal under the law, given that, currently, same-gender couples cannot obtain a marriage licence from the State.
What my bill does not do is require any person or Church to carry out a marriage if it does not fit with the beliefs of the celebrant or the religious interpretation a Church has. Section 29 of the Marriage Act remains in place and makes it clear that once a marriage licence is obtained by a couple, it does not oblige a minister or celebrant to marry that couple. That is the situation now and nothing will change. 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 its religious belief. For Churches and religious institutions, such discrimination would be justified under section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, based on the right to freedom of religion—specifically, the manifestation of religion and belief—under section 15 of that Act.
It is the State’s role to uphold our laws and our international obligations and to ensure that everyone has equality under the law. The Church can discriminate, but the State should not and cannot. We as parliamentarians belong to the only institution in New Zealand—our Parliament—that makes our laws and upholds not only these laws but our international obligations as well. It is not the State’s role to sanction heterosexuality or homosexuality. We recognised that as a country in 1986, when we decriminalised homosexual acts. Nor is it the State’s role to judge the marriages of its citizens. Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage as a governmental institution, irrespective of religious affiliation, in accordance with the marriage laws of the State.
Marriage as an institution pre-dates government and Christianity. It has been part of civilisations and cultures and has, over that time, changed dramatically. Same-sex marriage between men was not uncommon in the days of the Roman emperor Nero. The Catholic Church initially saw the institution of marriage as tainted and undesirable, and advocated chastity and celibacy. Once the Church adopted and adapted marriage, it was for life. It could not be dissolved. A married woman assumed the identity of her husband and he received all her property. By marriage, the legal doctrine of
coverture meant a woman had no legal status. She could not own property, enter into contracts, earn money, or obtain an education without her husband’s consent.
The Church and State have at different times refused to marry people who have been divorced, refused to marry people of different faiths, and refused to marry people of different races. Those restrictions have changed, because they were not fair and just.
Women were not able to be guardians of their children upon a divorce or separation. A law was needed to change that. For women to own property required law changes as
recently as 1884. A woman was able to obtain a divorce from her husband only if there was another cause alongside adultery, such as extreme cruelty, desertion, or incest. A man, however, could obtain a divorce immediately on the basis of his wife’s adultery.
These are all part of the historical matrix that is marriage. Thankfully, the need to change some of the laws has been recognised and implemented. With women obtaining the right to vote and finally having legal status, the greatest transformation of marriage began. There are a number of shocking historical facts that surround this subject, and we baulk at how, in a civilised society, they could happen.
Today is the time to open the institution of marriage to all people who are eligible. There is no reasonable ground on which the State should deny any citizen the right to enter the institution of marriage if he or she chooses. That is not the process of inclusion.
To any person concerned about their own beliefs and how they wish to celebrate marriage, it is important to always remember that this bill allows a couple to only obtain a marriage licence. It does not mean that a minister or celebrant must marry the couple. Section 29 of the Marriage Act 1955 says that, and this will not change.
Some people have suggested that the Church cannot share its view about marriage because of section 56 of the Marriage Act. Section 56 says that a person cannot state that another person’s marriage is not legal. That does not concern the general view of marriage but is directed to an individual, and the reality is that once sanctioned by law, the marriage is legal, and no Church person should be stating otherwise.
I want to highlight two specific consequences if my bill becomes law. Under section 3 of our current Adoption Act a joint application to adopt can be made by only spouses or the birth parent and his or her spouse. A spouse is a marital partner, so if you are married, you are spouses. Therefore, under the current wording of the Adoption Act, same-sex marital partners as spouses would be able to make a joint application to adopt. There are shortcomings in our current Adoption Act, and the Care of Children Law Reform Bill, which is also in the ballot, would be unaffected by this bill.
Also an obvious consequential amendment is to section 30(2) of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995. This provision limits a trans person who is married and who gets a Family Court declaration under section 28 of this Act to change their sex details from having those details amended on a birth certificate. This section should be deleted. A marriage stood strong through the significant change of one partner transitioning from one sex to another should remain recognised under New Zealand law.
How any person’s marriage is performed has never been the State’s business. Whether it be cultural, religious, or civil, it is the decision for the couple and their
whānau. What this bill will do is enable that decision to be made and for all people to have the same choices about how they make a commitment to one another. Where it requires a licence, the State should not exclude any citizen who is otherwise eligible. To exclude two people from obtaining a marriage licence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity is not tolerable. We have an opportunity as a Parliament to rectify this discriminatory, unequal, and unfair application of the law. Kia ora.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Before I put the question and call the next speaker, I must remind our guests in the gallery that they cannot take part in any proceedings in the House, much as they may wish to. Visitors in the gallery cannot applaud or express any view on the debate in the House. I apologise for that, but those are the rules of the House.
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central)
: I am pleased to support the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.
tēnā koutou katoa. I want to congratulate Louisa Wall on bringing this bill to the House.
Today is an important day for New Zealand, because I hope that we are on the cusp of passing a piece of legislation that will strengthen the rights and freedoms of a significant group of New Zealanders.
In this House there is huge diversity. We were born in places across New Zealand—from Takapuna to
Ruatōria—and in villages in Samoa. We have MPs of different ethnicities—Samoan, Korean, Chinese,
Pākehā, and many more. We have MPs of different faiths—Muslim to Sikh to Christian. We are a House of Representatives. We reflect the diversity of New Zealand, and our families are all so different. What binds us together is a shared sense of justice, fairness, and a heartfelt belief in this amazing, democratic, hard-working country. My grandfather fought for our freedom, as did many members’ relatives, in this House. Ronald Reagan once said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same”.
New Zealand has a proud history of leading in issues of equality. This bill, in my view, is about justice and the basic right of every New Zealander to have equality before the law. Civil union gave us a step forward in that it conferred many rights to New Zealanders who had been deprived of them in the past. However, it did not guarantee every New Zealander the ability to marry the person they love. It did not guarantee an equality of status relationship. I go further and say that this bill not only confers on every New Zealander an equality before the law in terms of their relationship but gives a dignity and an acceptance to a group of New Zealanders who not long ago were criminalised for the people they love.
I stand before you today as a member of the National Party. As the National Party, we have a strong history of bringing together different groups of New Zealanders. Recently, the Prime Minister commented on the founders of the National Party. He said: “… they thought that the individual freedom promoted by National involved many diverse groups with conflicting interests. Tolerance was the key to working through those conflicts—giving everyone a say, but ensuring the Party ultimately focused on the good of the country as a whole.” That is why I accept that being a champion of freedom is also about accepting that others may hold strong opposing views and that they have the right to voice and exercise those views in this House. We may vote differently on this side of the House on conscience issues, but we are bound by equality of opportunity. We are a party that has always treasured freedom of choice. We are a party that is often regarded as the unwelcome hand of the nanny State reaching into the homes of many New Zealand families.
It would be remiss of me not to acknowledge some of the people and the liberal members in the past who have fought on this side of the House for freedom. Venn Young proposed the first attempt at homosexual law reform, Marilyn Waring dedicated her time in Parliament and her academic career to issues of equality, and the Rt Hon Jenny Shipley proposed and helped pass the human rights legislation. I also stand before you today as the member for Auckland Central. I represent the wonderful suburbs of Grey Lynn, Ponsonby, and Rocky Bay, and a huge lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. But at a personal level, regardless of the fact that I am a member of the National Party and the member for Auckland Central, I support this bill because I actually believe it is the right thing to do.
I know the arguments in opposition. I do not believe that tradition is a good reason to block same-sex couples from the ability to marry. If we had accepted in this House the arguments of tradition, then women would have never got the vote, and women would not be sitting in this Chamber this evening. In terms of religion, there will be ministers and people of different faiths supporting the bill and some who oppose it. Some have raised issues of religious freedom, and I believe that those issues can be worked through
at the select committee. I know how important this bill is for many young New Zealanders. Young New Zealanders overwhelmingly support this bill. When I look to the future of this country and the many people who will come after us in this House, I believe that if this legislation does not pass today, it will eventually pass.
I meet young New Zealanders every day who are very diverse. They are more diverse than the previous generation. They have a high level of tolerance and respect for people’s differences. They do not shun those differences; in fact, they celebrate them. I stand here as a New Zealander with eight siblings. I have had lots of parents; several step-parents. I have a mother who has a boyfriend of 25 years and I have a father who has had several marriages. Dad, I think you have used my quota! The point that I make is that New Zealand family structures are very diverse, and a major reason that I support this bill is that I want every New Zealander to have—and I cannot deny any New Zealander—the ability to marry the person they love.
I stand here not just as a New Zealander who believes in equality of the law but also as someone who has seen people prejudiced and teased in the broad light of day in this country. I have seen the subtle prejudice: the people who say that their partners are not invited to work functions, the people who feel uncomfortable holding hands walking down the street, and the people who may not be invited to the family Christmas. I see it through my electorate office. I see it in the street. The prevention of prejudice is not just the role of parliamentarians in this House. Our country would be a lot stronger if we all practised the values of greater tolerance, respect, understanding, and compassion for fellow New Zealanders. I have met through my office people who are scared to come out to their friends, their families, their colleagues, and their community. In fact, the saddest result of prejudice that I have seen has been—and is reflected in—the high number of youth lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender suicides. Some of these people have taken their lives because they cannot see themselves as being accepted. They cannot see themselves being happy.
This Parliament has an opportunity through legislation to help change that. I will vote for marriage equality so that every New Zealander can marry the person who they want to love. This bill enshrines a principle that society supports loving and committed relationships between two people. In all of the over 10,000 constituency queries that I have had, I have never had anyone who has said that they want to be married to more than one person. As a legislator, I support New Zealand having laws that recognise the value of two people making a commitment to each other in law. My idea of strong family policies is initiatives that support the well-being of children and education and health, and that enable two committed people to be in a relationship and have that recognised in law. That is why I believe that the institution of marriage can actually be strengthened by enabling more people to marry.
I want to acknowledge some people who have been on this road and have fought for freedom within our party. I want to acknowledge Sean
Topham, Shaun Wallis, and Megan Campbell. I want to acknowledge Tau Henare. Kia ora, Tau. I am pleased to support this marriage equality bill in the House, because I believe that this bill is fundamentally about justice, freedom, and equality of opportunity. It is actually a reason why I am a member of the National Party. Our country, in my view, will be a much better place for enabling every New Zealander to walk with a little more freedom this evening. I commend this bill to the House.
Su’a WILLIAM SIO (Labour—Māngere)
: I stand here as an elected representative in this House, elected by the people of
Māngere. It is an electorate that is close to my heart. Its people put me here by giving me their confidence that I would fairly and fully represent them. As the
Māngere member of Parliament I am privileged with the stewardship that I have been given by the community, and their key priorities
determine the things that I advocate for and stand on. They expect me to represent their voice without fear, and even at the risk of standing alone or being called names that hurt and upset families watching on. With that in mind, I appreciate that I represent a different point of view, one that is perhaps contrary to the majority view of this House. So to my colleagues whose views may differ from those that I represent, I stand in opposition to this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, with the total commitment to defend your right to disagree with me.
As a member of the Labour Party, I say that we are a broad and diverse party of people with different points of view on almost every issue, and on this particular issue it is Labour Party policy that this matter be voted on as a matter of conscience. I therefore claim that right to vote on this issue in accordance with the dictates of my own conscience, and allow all MPs the same privilege.
This is a matter that is very sensitive for many in my constituency. Within the Pacific and faith communities, even within my own family, within the fa‘afafine fraternity, and even within the Pacific same-sex community, it is a difficult issue, and the views are very divided. Many in the community want Parliament to focus on the weightier matters of putting food on the table and paying the bills, and not on matters that are considered private, personal, and religious in nature.
In the Samoan community, many recognise Samoan same-sex relationships and fa‘afafine, to the extent that they are given very high-ranking titles, but everyone conducts their affairs within the boundaries of culture and religion. I understand the desire of the gay community who want to have same-sex marriage, but many who oppose this bill believe that the civil union and the statutory relationship laws already provide these legal rights to same-sex couples. Many believe that that legislation ought to be strengthened, rather than changing marriage to incorporate same-sex marriage.
If Parliament is to change this long-held standard of marriage between a man and a woman by passing this bill, 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. We do not know what those ramifications are, but there is concern within my community. It is not a small change. It is a significant move. All I would say to members of Parliament and to the wider community as we have conversations about this bill and its ramifications is that I would implore everyone on both sides of the argument to keep the conversation safe, respectful, and dignified. Peace to you all.
KEVIN HAGUE (Green)
: I am proud to stand tonight to congratulate my friend and colleague Louisa Wall, and to say that all Green Party MPs will be voting for this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. The New Zealand adolescent health research group has shown that teenagers who are same-sex attracted have disproportionately high rates of alcohol and other drug-abuse problems, depression, other mental health problems, self-harm, unsafe sexual behaviour, including HIV risk, and suicide attempts. In 2007, 20 percent of these young people had attempted suicide in the past year—that is five times the rate of their heterosexual peers. All of these issues are strongly associated with psychosocial risk factors like low self-esteem and feelings of isolation and worthlessness. Research is unequivocal that these in turn are very strongly associated with the experience of discrimination, or, alternatively, the experience of hiding one’s sexual orientation to avoid discrimination.
When I worked at the New Zealand AIDS Foundation in the early 1990s we produced a poster that said, simply: “HIV attacks the body. Prejudice attacks the spirit … Both can kill.” The effects of this corrosive social environment on the individual also include anti-gay bullying, harassment, and violence. If we want to do something about the terrible burden of misery, illness, and death being faced by young lesbian, gay, and
transgendered people, then we have to do something about prejudice and discrimination. For me, that is why marriage equality is so important. The message that the State currently sends through this discriminatory law undermines these young people and fuels and gives heart to prejudice. That is why it must change.
A law that treats all couples equally does the reverse. It undermines prejudice, it empowers the marginalised, and it creates a healthier and happier society. That is why even if civil unions carried exactly the same rights and responsibilities, they would still not be enough. All of the time that heterosexual couples have access to the status of marriage and we do not, a message is sent that we are less than normal. If anyone disputes that, imagine if the situation were reversed. How would heterosexual people feel if they could not marry?
My partner and I have been together for 28 years this month. My guess is that that is longer than most heterosexual marriages. At the beginning we could have been fired from our jobs, kicked out of our home, denied goods and services, and arrested and imprisoned for being who we are and expressing our love. To allow us the right to marry would right an injustice, bring great benefit not only to us but to all of those marginalised young people, and harm absolutely nobody. In the words of a former and great member of this House, Brian Donnelly, I used to often tell my students: “You don’t make your own candle shine more brightly by blowing out somebody else’s.” The converse of that adage is: “My own candle will not glow more dimly if I should light somebody else’s.” He asked this question: “How will my own marriage be diminished by the passage of this legislation?”. He was talking about civil unions. The answer, and I am convinced it is the correct answer, is that it will not make one iota of difference. If that is the case, what is so dreadfully wrong in allowing other New Zealanders of a different disposition to make a long-term public commitment to someone they love?
I have friends right across this House and I want to particularly acknowledge those who have changed their minds to support this bill, and also those who will oppose it tonight but have genuinely open minds to the possibility of change. But I say to others that your vote on this bill will stand against your name for ever. It is up to you on which side of history you will be remembered.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First)
: New Zealand has a proud democratic tradition. The principles of democracy are deeply ingrained in our political culture. We are one of only nine countries worldwide that can claim an unbroken line of democracy—that is, holding elections every 3 years since 1854. The concept that every adult is entitled to an equal say is a fundamental part of who we are as a nation, and yet there is still an assumption in this House that members know better than the public when it comes to issues of morality. The conscience vote exists because it is believed that MPs possess some sort of unique ethical view or intellectual capacity that entitles them to a greater say than the ordinary voter. That is an archaic belief that has no place in a modern democracy or 21st century New Zealand. This type of conscience vote is a relic of a bygone age. It is inherently anti-democratic and it is time MPs on both sides of the House consigned it to the dustbin of history. There is no reason why the public should be denied the opportunity to decide the outcome of this debate.
The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill will change institutional marriage as we know it. This matter is by definition one of public morality, and if New Zealand is to have a public morality, it must be decided by the public, the voters of New Zealand. We proposed an amendment to Ms Wall’s bill that would require a binding referendum to be held upon the bill’s passage, which referendum, depending on the outcome, would be a catalyst as to whether the bill becomes law or otherwise. That proposal was rejected, on the grounds that according to some media-driven polls 60 percent of New Zealanders support same-sex marriage. That may or may not be the
case, but the only way to test and determine that is by way of referendum. Such a major legislative change should be based on the collective will of the people, not 121 temporarily empowered members of Parliament. New Zealanders should make these decisions collectively, as a nation.
There are those here in this institution and outside who would plead “But MPs are elected to make these tough decisions.” If that is true, which party campaigned on this issue? Where was this issue in the lead-up to the 2011 election? Where is the transparency of campaign commitments that would lead some MPs to believe and conclude that they were elected on this issue? The fact is that they were not, for at no time did they ever campaign on it. This Parliament is now wrestling with alcohol legislation, which members themselves decided upon and created an unholy mess. This is a Parliament that decided to legalise prostitution, without real safeguards, and now all over New Zealand communities are alarmed at what is happening in hitherto safe business and community areas. What could possibly be wrong or unprincipled or unethical or immoral in letting the people decide a moral issue for themselves? What unique insights, understanding, or greater level of perception do parliamentarians exclusively have that are not shared by the New Zealand people?
This party began 9 years ago, firmly believing in the far greater use of referendum mandate. We have never changed our view on that, even to the extent that we put a major macroeconomic issue like compulsory savings to the people of this country in a referendum in 1997. We could have just taken the arrogant view then that we should just ram it through Parliament. But we did not. And although the public voted in support of a view different from ours, we accepted the public’s right to have their say. Since that time we have seen all manner of changes, such as the abolition of the Privy Council, changes to the New Zealand Honours system, and the abandonment of Queen’s Counsel, all rammed through this Parliament, with the last two being overturned by a later Government. It begs the question: is this parliamentary superiority a transient,
chimeric thing? Not far from New Zealand is Fiji, where the military has seized Government and constantly argues that it is backed by the people. Many of us have responded, rightly, I say, that if that is so, why not hold an election and prove it, and thereby remove all doubt? Likewise, tonight we say: let us ask the people, and obtain a proper, durable mandate.
You know, it is truly ironic to see so many people swearing daily their allegiance to democracy, as MPs do every day, and yet when a true opportunity for real democracy, expanded democracy, is presented before them, so many have no desire to allow it to happen. Those of us who argue for a full public referendum on this issue are satisfied to accept the public’s will. We are satisfied to take our instructions from the people. We believe—
Mr SPEAKER: The member’s time has expired.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Sorry, I did not hear the bell.
Mr SPEAKER: I gave the member a 1-minute bell.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Well, I apologise. Could I just finish off then?
Mr SPEAKER: Because the member did not hear, I apologise. It was my fault. I will allow the member to finish. It was my fault. I did not ring it for long enough.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: What grounds could those who think otherwise possibly have? One has to wonder what priorities some MPs have, when again today hundreds of people face losing their jobs, such as another tranche of
goldminers on the West Coast. Any emergency debate about them? Or do we just consign hundreds of families to the scrap heap of the free market, and call this a more important issue?
Therefore, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill without a referendum is opposed by New Zealand First. We oppose this Parliament again ignoring
the people’s view, whatever the people’s view may be. I ask: why are so many here not prepared to trust the people on these issues?
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West)
: When this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, was drawn, I indicated that I would vote against it. The reasons that I gave to the media and my constituents at that time remain important to me, but the intense public interest shown in this matter has prompted me to go much further in my thinking. I approach the issue as one who respects and wishes to protect the institution of marriage in its historical and current form. I believe that a major purpose of New Zealand’s civil union legislation, which was passed before I became an MP, was to protect the legal rights of gay and de facto couples. In my opinion, if more protection is needed—and it may be—it should be achieved by amending that legislation, not the Marriage Act. I have offered to meet supporters of this bill in my electorate to discuss what could be achieved by such a compromise.
I accept that ours is a secular society, but for me and many other New Zealanders our attitude is also deeply embedded in our Christian belief in the sanctity of marriage. I chose that word deliberately, not because I expect everyone else to view marriage in that way, but because it is how I see it. New Zealanders have a right to understand what the values and beliefs of their MPs are, especially at times such as this. One of my favourite plays is Robert Bolt’s
A Man for All Seasons. Tonight for me might be best described as a Sir Thomas More moment.
For some members of this House and for many members of the public, especially those in the younger demographic, this is a fairly easy question to answer. They have emailed me and written to me, and posted their views on Facebook, urging me to change my mind. To them it is a simple human rights issue, in that we are all created equal, we should be treated equally under the law, and that the State has no right, nor is there any public interest, in denying New Zealanders the legal authority to marry on the grounds that both partners are male or both are female. For me, however, and for many other New Zealanders, the issue is not that simple. Nor is it a question of the State denying the human rights of some citizens. I would never condone the suppression of my gay friends’ and constituents’ human rights. I do not judge them nor regard them in any way as inferior.
Each day we commence our sittings in this House with a prayer that “we will conduct our affairs and those of this country to the glory of God’s holy name, the maintenance of true religion and justice, and the public welfare, peace, and tranquillity of New Zealand.” It has become fashionable to demean the role of churches in society, but our modern nation was founded on Christian values, with a rich Christian heritage dating back many centuries brought to these shores by our ancestors. That heritage underpins our democratic tradition, our legal system, our traditional family structures, and the freedoms that we so often take for granted. We should not take those institutions lightly, and in matters such as the issue we are debating tonight we should be respectful of the voices of our church leaders. Although ours is essentially a Christian heritage, we are increasingly a multicultural and a multi-faith society. Although there are many differences reflected in that diversity, attitudes to marriage and its special status as a relationship between one man and one woman who honour and remain faithful to each other are consistent. I hope we will hear from representatives of those various faith communities during this debate.
Yesterday 70 Christian church leaders, including numerous national heads of major church denominations, both Catholic and Protestant, released a joint personal statement in response to this Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, and I believe it is important that it become part of the record of this first reading debate. “We have made this joint statement”, said the Rev. Dr Richard Waugh, “because members of
Parliament need to be in no doubt what mainstream Christian views are on this matter. This issue is not about equality but about the nature of marriage. All human beings are equal in the sight of both God and society, but not all relationships are the same. Marriage has uniquely been about the union of male and female. The State should not presume to re-engineer a basic human institution. The complementary role of male and female is basic to the very character of marriage, along with having and raising children. Same-sex relationships are intrinsically different, so can never be regarded as true marriage.”
Marriage, as we understand it, has for many centuries been the basis of the traditional family unit. During my lifetime, the family has come under increasing attack in a variety of ways, and I believe our society is much poorer for that. In the joint statement from the churches, the ministers urged parliamentarians “to take seriously that, for a very significant proportion of the New Zealand public, marriage is more than just a legal agreement or social contract, but has a sacred character to it, and that many people—Christian and otherwise—feel very strongly that the nature of marriage should not be interfered with.” I understand the distress of many in our community around this issue. I wish I could say more and respond more to those representations I have received, but I do pray that we will make the right decision this evening.
Dr DAVID CLARK (Labour—Dunedin North)
: Some senior colleagues, whom I respect greatly, have requested that I consider seeking a call on this contentious bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, and having given the matter thought I now stand in the House to speak my truth on this matter.
Many of you following this debate will know that I am a Presbyterian minister. I have been a part of similar debates in the Church in recent decades. But in this House I do not formally represent the Church. I represent Dunedin North and, in this debate, my own conscience. Across the Church, as across society, there are many views on the issues of sexuality and marriage. Like all MPs I have been lobbied heavily by people on both sides of the argument. I want to relate a couple of stories that have come to me through that experience. The first is of an elderly gay man, a friend of mine, who petitioned me not to support this legislation, because in his view he fought for civil unions. He fought for equality before the law and he got it. He did not want the heterosexual baggage of property rights and other history that is associated with marriage, and, rightly, he pointed to the Christian scriptures where he said there was no model for marriage that is consistent. What we have in the Old Testament is largely polygamy, and there is an absence of advice, certainly from Jesus, in the New Testament on the topic of marriage. I suspect he would say, and would be of the view, that marriage is frequently paraded in the media by those who claim a Christian viewpoint as, really, a thinly veiled defence of Victorian morality.
A second person who petitioned me against supporting this bill was a young pastor from a church in my electorate, who was very genuinely concerned by some research he had read that suggested that children who grow up raised by parents who are not their biological parents are likely to be worse off and have worse life outcomes. He was very serious and genuine in his concerns. I also received many voices in favour of this legislation, particularly from younger members of the gay, lesbian, bi, and transgender community, and many people in that community can simply not understand what the fuss is about. I think also of gay and lesbian couples I know who are fantastic parents of fantastic children.
Personally, I would prefer a model like the German one, where civil unions are conducted by the State for all couples, and marriages are carried out outside the State’s grasp for religious or other reasons. But that is not what is on offer here. I have been persuaded in this debate by two things in particular. Marriage is to most people a
secular term, certainly for younger folk. I know, for example, that in the Presbyterian Church, where I was trained and have practised, marriage was never regarded as a sacrament. That is why Presbyterian ministers were amongst the first in New Zealand to conduct garden weddings.
The second thing that has persuaded me is that overseas there is still discrimination against those who cannot claim marriage, who cannot tick the marriage box. The strongest support for marriage equality that I have experienced has come from the age group most likely to be engaging in marriage in the future. It is for those people who will be inheriting and carrying forward the institution of marriage that I am supporting the bill. I am mindful that many of my colleagues from across the House who would claim a strong faith background do not support this view. I am respectful of their beliefs, and although I know that they have carefully and prayerfully examined their own consciences, I am mindful that they may come to a different view from mine. My thoughts are with them and with people wrestling personally with the impact of this bill on their lives. Thank you.
Dr PAUL HUTCHISON (National—Hunua)
: From the outset I want to acknowledge Louisa Wall and her thoughtfulness and preparedness to speak with me at very short notice both knowledgably and incredibly wisely on this very important bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. Secondly, might I acknowledge my constituents in Hunua, who have answered many surveys that I have put out and have thoughtfully and with great effort and passion sent me many emails and letters regarding this bill. I have thought long and hard about it, and despite the
New Zealand Herald
depicting me this morning as voting against it, and many attempts, I simply cannot construct a strong enough intellectual, moral, health, or even spiritual argument against it. Consequently, I will be voting for the bill.
As was also mentioned by the
New Zealand Herald
a few weeks ago, within a few hours of this bill being drawn from the ballot, I had the Christian lobby in my local electorate asking for an appointment and they certainly gave me their very clear views, which I respect. But subsequent to that I have had many conversations throughout the electorate with people from many walks of life. I very much respect that Louisa Wall sees the major issue is about ensuring that all New Zealanders have equal rights, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. We have a system of separation of Church and State, and this bill clearly relates only to civil law and preserves the right of churches to decide whom they may marry. I very much appreciate—I very much hope that the churches appreciate—that fact. I would certainly be against the bill if that were not the case.
My initial reticence in supporting the bill came from my concern that some of the issues around it have not been fully explored by way of national conversations, that there is no strong New Zealand evidence base, and that we are travelling fast to come to a result on an issue that many New Zealanders on either side feel very deeply about—issues that have profound sociological implications. I ask: should the New Zealand Parliament be, in the first instance, initiating expert or select committee inquiries into the new birth technologies, adoption, the spectrum of sexuality and gender difference, children’s rights, and the evidence from the New Zealand experience so far, be it fairly short?
I understand that currently a female adult in New Zealand can adopt both a boy and a girl, but a male can adopt only a boy and only in exceptional circumstances a girl. With the passage of this bill that will change instantaneously and that is a big change that does need exploring. But in the end it boils down to the same premise that all New Zealanders should have the right to civil marriage, irrespective of race, sex, or gender.
I was deeply concerned to hear that gay adolescents have a suicide rate five to eight times that of heterosexual adolescents, in a country that already has an appallingly high suicide rate. In conversations with the Hon Maryan Street and Kevin Hague, they both tell me that it will make a profound difference to the marginalisation that adolescents feel.
From a health perspective we should be doing everything possible to create an environment in New Zealand where everyone feels they are included—I accept that. I am impressed that the Anglican Church here in New Zealand is moving, albeit slowly but progressively, by appointing a commission of study led by Sir Anand
Tāmati Reedy. I want to see these issues widely debated and studied in a New Zealand context and I hope they will submit to the select committee.
Finally, I sincerely hope that the select committee process will be thorough and robust and will be committed to openly addressing the sorts of issues I have brought up, and many more. Although I would have personally preferred a slower process regarding this legislation, as I said earlier I simply cannot construct an intellectual, moral, health, or spiritual argument against it—in fact the reverse is very much the case. I support the bill.
JOHN HAYES (National—Wairarapa)
: In 2005, while I was campaigning for election to this Parliament, many people expressed their concern and anger that the then Wairarapa member of Parliament, Georgina Beyer, failed to represent their views on the issue of prostitution reform. When elected, I undertook to reflect the electorate’s views and I will do that on this legislation, designed to promote the Labour Party’s social reform agenda.
I trust the instincts of my constituents. They provide a perspective that is not imposed by this House, nor forced. Whatever differences there may be among us, as there must be, nothing will shake my conviction from supporting the majority view in my electorate. My judgment on this Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill is in step with many constituents I have spoken to on the street, in the shops, in the businesses, and in the bars between Waipawa and Martinborough. Like them, I consider the bill to be a sideshow; there are more serious issues that this House should be focused on. My constituents do not understand why a change in civil marriage is important. They say it will impact on a few, be noticed in their daily life by even fewer people, and have minimal, if any, direct impact on most New Zealanders.
In response to my request for constituents’ views, I have received several thousand replies by way of phone calls, letters, and emails. Constituents who support the bill argue that discrimination of any kind has no place in New Zealand. They say we need to look no further than the laws enacted by this Parliament over many years that have broken down barriers and opened doors for all who live in this country. They say our New Zealand Bill of Rights Act affirms that everyone has the right to freedom from discrimination and our Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, yet two men or two women are prohibited from marrying. They say that in the 21st century in New Zealand we should not be willing to accept a legal system that effectively casts one group of people into the role of second-class citizens on the grounds of their sexual orientation.
Those in my electorate who oppose the bill do so for a range of reasons. They have widely differing political views; they have differing religious beliefs. There are both religious and non-religious views, set against same-sex marriage. For Christians, marriage involves vows before God and witnesses, for a man and a woman to commit to one another, to procreate, and to raise children. For all religions, marriage is not defined by love; it is defined as a union between a man and a woman for procreation. 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.
There are many arguments from the religious perspective. However, increasingly, marriage is not based on one religion. Some constituents point out that marriage is a union between a man and a woman and predates even the Bible as a foundation for our society. To them I would note that the Roman Emperor Nero entered into a marriage with a male slave. I see plenty of unions taking place in New Zealand between a man and a woman without any religious context. These are sometimes called marriages and use a celebrant rather than a priest, or sometimes these couples choose to have a civil union. Some couples choose not to acknowledge their relationship in any way other than by living together. Many in my electorate consider same-sex couples to have the same means of acknowledging their relationship as heterosexual couples, through civil union. Constituents then ask why same-sex couples need to reclassify this union as a marriage. A New Zealand civil union offers the same rights and benefits to parties as spouses to a marriage. The only major difference, apart from labels associated, is that, unlike a marriage, civil unions are a civil matter not conducted through a church.
It is obvious these issues expose a much deeper question for churches and the wider community: what ought to be the involvement of the State in what are essentially religious and spiritual sacraments. Some constituents would rather that there were a complete divorce between the State’s recognition of a marriage—a civil union—and the churches’ solemnisation or blessing of matrimony, as in the case of many European countries. The fact is that a civil union is the same as a marriage, and a rose is a rose, so the legal issue appears mere semantics.
Each of us present today is a fleeting transient on the stage of this country’s history. We do not have the right to sweep aside the traditions that exist in our communities. They are not ours alone to deal with as we wish. This place belongs to every New Zealander. That is why I have asked my constituents how I should represent their views on this issue.
JAMI-LEE ROSS (National—Botany)
: I am pleased to have an opportunity to outline for the House the reasons why I will be voting in favour of this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. About 9 years ago when I decided to join a political party, I considered carefully the values and beliefs that I feel strongly about. After some time I decided to join the National Party, because National most closely resembles what I believe in. Tonight when I walk into the Ayes lobby to vote on this marriage amendment bill, it is because I want to stay true to the core beliefs of the National Party. Three of these beliefs are equal citizenship and equal opportunity, individual freedom and choice, and strong families and caring communities. When I consider the reasons that I came into politics, and when I consider the strong values and principles I believe in, I simply cannot see a way in which I could vote against this bill. Believing in equal citizenship and equal opportunity is not a part-time belief. If we are to stand in this House and champion the rights of New Zealanders to be treated equally, we must apply that principle across the board.
As a New Zealander of a younger generation I find it hard to fathom that not long before I was born we actually had a law that said homosexuality was illegal. I also find it hard to understand why it was not until a few years ago that Parliament allowed same-sex couples to have their relationships recognised in law. And now I find myself
questioning why I, as a heterosexual New Zealander, have the legislative right to marry, when same-sex couples do not.
When my wife and I got married 4 years ago, we did so because we love each other. We did so because we wanted to spend the rest of our lives with each other. We chose to get married because we could, and because that is what you do when you want to have legal recognition of your relationship with the most wonderful, caring, and beautiful person in your life; you get married. Most New Zealanders have the ability to get married, like Lucy and I did, but without this legislation passing, a portion of society does not have that opportunity.
That leads me to the question of why. Why should Parliament tell some New Zealanders that they do not have the same freedoms as others? Why should Parliament tell the nation that we believe in individual freedom and personal responsibility, but only when we agree with the type of relationship the person is in? I believe strongly in individual freedom. I believe strongly in all New Zealanders being able to determine their own destiny. If two loving, consenting adults want to get married, I am not affected in any way. Allowing same-sex couples to marry has absolutely no impact on couples who are already married, and we should not be afraid of it.
We have all been receiving a lot of emails today. I do not agree with everything that people are saying, but I do find myself agreeing with a recurring theme: marriage is the foundation for a loving family environment. If that is true, if that is what we believe is a fundamental basis of marriage, then that can only be an argument in favour of this bill, because, like it or not, up and down this country, children are being raised in homes by same-sex couples. If it is believed that marriage provides greater protections for those children, and if it is believed that marriage gives those children a more loving and caring environment to grow up in, then we should do it for those children.
The law allowed me the good fortune to marry my wife and bring a child into a loving, married relationship. I believe in individual freedom and equal opportunity. I believe that all New Zealanders should have the same freedoms and opportunities regardless of their sexual orientation. I do not feel threatened. I do not think there is anything abnormal about being gay or lesbian. What is abnormal is believing that only some people can be as happy as those of us living in a stable, loving, and caring marriage. I hope this Parliament can extend to all New Zealanders the opportunity to get married.
LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa)
: Kia ora
anō. In this closing reply I would like to acknowledge that the fight for all New Zealanders to be recognised as equal citizens under the law is one that has been fought in Aotearoa for around 50 years. To that end I wish to acknowledge two women who are here tonight, who were the litigants in the
Quilter case that brought this issue to the fore and recognised that the changes necessary to bring about equality were matters for Parliament.
JoolsJoslin and Jenny Rowan applied for a marriage licence in 1995, almost 10 years after homosexual law reform, and were denied. They and two other couples challenged that action through the High Court and the Court of Appeal. They then took the matter to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to test that denial against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Incrementally, their courage in challenging the discriminatory implementation of the provisions in the Marriage Act set the platform for the consideration of this bill tonight.
I want to acknowledge all people involved in the campaign for marriage equality. They are people from across the political spectrum representing rainbow groups, queer-straight alliance groups, human rights advocates and groups, our religious leadership, and communities and many others who are fighting for legalised love, and those who have
blogged, those who have shared their stories in the media, and those who have led
meetings and discussions in our families and communities—thank you for your solidarity in advancing the rights of other New Zealanders and proud citizens of our country. I specifically want to acknowledge our Pacific and ethnic communities. I mean no disrespect to you. Your beliefs and values and those of your heritage countries of origin are valid.
The purpose and intent of this bill is very clear. It means that the law and the social and civil institutions that that law governs apply equally to everyone. It means that a couple who so choose can apply for, and receive, a marriage licence from the State. What it does not do is affect a person’s own beliefs about marriage. The fact that a couple wants to make a commitment to each other by marriage is a cause for celebration, and it can only benefit our society and families as a whole. Marginalising and discriminating against particular sectors does not benefit society and families. It is a simple choice. Do we support discriminatory laws, or not? I know I do not, and, hopefully, that is true of most of the members of this House.
History tells us that the struggles of 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
whānau member who is gay, you do not want them to suffer or have fewer rights than you. That is not fair or just.
Equality for all New Zealand citizens under the law is not a moral issue. It is an issue of the inherent equal value and worth of every New Zealand citizen in a modern democratic society. The State currently discriminates. That is not fair or just. We should be valuing and including all members of our society. The State does not limit a New Zealand citizen in their ability to get a passport. If you are a New Zealand citizen, fill in the forms correctly, meet the criteria that apply to all people, and pay the fee, you will get one. The State does not limit a New Zealand citizen in their ability to get a driver’s licence. If you are a New Zealand citizen, fill in the forms correctly, meet the criteria that all people must meet, and pay the fee, you will get one. So why do we tolerate the State not giving New Zealand citizens a marriage licence, based purely on their sexual orientation and gender identity?
We know why many of the churches do not support this bill. It is fundamentally because their first principle is that homosexuals are sinners, and homosexuality is a sin. But in New Zealand there is a clear and transparent separation of Church and State. It is about time that that separation was recognised, within the context of marriage in New Zealand, and in the State’s role in the Marriage Act, through the issuing of a marriage licence.
A personal vote was called for on the question,
That the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill be now read a first time.
|Adams (P)||Dunne (P)||Kaye||Sharples|
|Ardern J||Dyson||Key (P)||Shearer|
|Banks (P)||Fenton||Lees-Galloway||Smith L (P)|
|Bennett P (P)||Foss||Logie||Tirikatene (P)|
|Carter||Graham (P)||McCully (P)||Wagner|
|Clendon||Harawira||Norman (P)||Wilkinson (P)|
|Collins (P)||Hipkins||Parker (P)||Woods|
|Ardern S||King C (P)||Peters||Tolley (P)|
|Bennett D||Lole-Taylor||Robertson R||Williams|
|Bridges (P)||Martin (P)||Ryall (P)||Yang|
|English (P)||McClay (P)||Sabin||Young|
|Hayes||O’Connor D||Smith N|
|Heatley (P)||O’Connor S||Stewart||Teller:|
Bill read a first time.
- The result corrected after originally being announced as Ayes 78, Noes 40.
referred to the Government Administration Committee.