Hansard and Journals
Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill — Second Reading
[Sitting date: 13 March 2013. Volume:688;Page:8523. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill
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 second time. In this second reading debate I want to focus on value—the value, the regard, the importance, or preciousness that every person should feel as a New Zealand citizen. During the debate on this bill a number of views have been expressed about a person’s value. I have been moved by the depth of feeling of those affected by the bill—those who will be able to choose whether they access a social institution they are currently prohibited from accessing for no reason other than their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. The feeling of being excluded, of being a second-class citizen, and of being outside the normal parameters of society proliferate amongst our community, but we are normal, and we are entitled to the same rights as every other citizen.
The issue of coming out, of being true to who you are, is difficult enough for any person. The discussion around this bill has emphasised how real the discrimination is. The agony and hardship that so many who have bravely made submissions have had to face is unreasonable, but what is totally unacceptable is the State perpetuating that agony and hardship by not issuing marriage licences to loving, consenting, and eligible non-heterosexual couples.
This bill is about marriage equality. It is not about gay marriage, same-sex marriage, or straight marriage; it is about marriage between two people. There is no distinction to be made—that is equality. Whether the form of that marriage is religious, secular, or cultural is a matter for the couple to determine. Denying marriage to a person is to devalue that person’s right to participate fully in all that life offers. It is essentially not recognising someone as a person. No State has the right to do that. To deny trans people, intersex, lesbian, and gay people the right to marry is to deny them recognition as a person.
Opponents to this bill are essentially asserting that non-heterosexuals are not equal people and therefore are not entitled to the same rights as other people. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said when being sworn in as the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986: “A person is a person because he recognises others as persons.” Almost 20 years later in a sermon in London in 2004, Archbishop Tutu expressed his wish to reverse injustice by ending the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which he described as every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid. He stated: “For me this struggle is a seamless robe. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice. It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all—all of us—part of God’s family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honour. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are.”
Archbishop Tutu’s logic and reasoning is compelling. It is the same logic and reason that should guide us all in this House when we vote on this issue. To most people marriage is an institution characterised by positivity. It is about love, commitment, and family. No sector of society has the right to claim ownership of marriage and determine that their perception and practice of marriage is the only acceptable way. Marriage belongs to society as a whole and that requires the involvement of the whole of society. The role of the State in marriage is to issue to a licence to two people who love each other and want to commit to one another formally—that is what this bill does.
To be valued for who we are is the bare minimum we should expect from others. It is the bare minimum we should expect from the State. For me it is what I would expect from a church, but that will be a longer journey and one that each denomination and church community will determine in their own time.
The State’s position is that all human beings are equal citizens and the law protects various aspects of a person’s identity including their sex, sexual orientation, age, colour, and race. These are fundamental aspects of our identity with which we are born. The Human Rights Act and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act extends the protections beyond these innate aspects to matters of status and belief.
I have always been clear that in pursuing marriage equality I will defend the rights of those in churches to practise their religion on terms that they consider reflect their beliefs. Freedom of religion is an individual right and I support the Government Administration Committee’s recommendation to strengthen Section 29 of the Marriage Act to make it clear that there is no compulsion for a minister to perform a marriage that he or she does not feel comfortable about. Section 29 protects all celebrants. Attempts by opponents in the last week to limit the protection only to those listed in the amendment are totally misleading. The select committee amendment, in clause 5A, is clear. The specific amendment that refers to organisational celebrants begins with the words “Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), …”. The general protection in Section 29 remains in place and applies to all celebrants. To read it in any other way is disingenuous.
Exercising freedom of religion means religious groups view marriage as exclusive. That is the reality of freedom of religion and it is my intention to recognise that freedom and therefore allow that discrimination to continue for as long as religious leaders and specific denominations choose. But in return I would ask that churches consider the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community with love, compassion, and reason. My bill is one step and will allow members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex community to participate in the civil and State institution of marriage.
Some church leaders have embraced that step and I am hopeful that time will see a change in the attitude and practices of other church members. I do have hope that churches will move towards an inclusive approach to marriage. Last October the General Assembly of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church passed a motion opposing this bill, but an attempt to pass a motion that their ministers could conduct a marriage only between a man and a woman was lost. That is a positive step and will allow ministers like Rev. Dr Margaret Mayman from St Andrews on the Terrace, who submitted both personally and professionally, to fulfil her desire to be able to offer same-sex couples the same option as different-sex couples—that is, to marry or have a civil union.
I want to recognise and thank the members of the Government Administration Committee who have read and listened to the many submissions received. Their report is reasoned and compassionate in recognising the positions taken by those in favour and those against.
In focusing on value I am drawn to the lyrics of American musician Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, in his song “Same Love”:
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
I can’t change
In voting on this bill, I hope the House will give a message to all young people: you do not have to change, you can be who you are, and we as a society will value who you are. Kia ora. [Interruption]
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Order! Order! Can I just remind members in the gallery that you are in Parliament and Parliament is here for the members of Parliament, not for members in the gallery. There will be no comments at all.
TIM MACINDOE (National—Hamilton West) : I rise to speak in this debate, having been a replacement member of the Government Administration Committee during the final stages of the committee’s work, although I regret that I did not hear the many submitters prior to the committee’s deliberations. Nevertheless, I have read and considered as many submissions as I could, and I have had numerous meetings with constituents and interested parties, especially in my own electorate in Hamilton. Many urged me to maintain my vote at first reading against the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill; quite a few urged me to change it.
In recent days both sides of the debate have flooded my in-box with emails. A common theme of many emails from the bill’s supporters, given that my Christian faith was, and remains, the main reason for my position, was that ours is a secular society and that my faith should be left out of the debate. I understand that view, but in matters of conscience one must fall back on firm foundations. To ignore what I perceive to be God’s will in this debate would, therefore, be unthinkable, even though I acknowledge that not all Christians think as one on this matter, and I agree with Glyn Carpenter from the New Zealand Christian Network that Christians must approach this matter graciously and with respect. I hope those who have contacted me, whatever their views, believe that I have achieved that, even though, I have to say, I have not always received the same in return.
New Zealand may, indeed, be a secular society, but marriage has historically been a religious institution for Christians and for most of the many other religions now represented with followers in New Zealand. For that reason, this matter is causing huge distress to many, and it is quite wrong to say that changing the definition of the word will not affect anyone else. Christians, for example, believe that marriage was instituted of God himself, signifying the mystical union between Christ and his Church. It may be convenient for some to argue, therefore, that the change of a definition has no great impact on others, but that ignores and offends tens of thousands of New Zealanders who think otherwise.
Last year I indicated that a principal reason for my opposition was my concern that Parliament is moving ahead of the churches on this issue. I remain very concerned about that, as I believe that some of the division that this bill has caused within society in recent months could have been avoided. If the churches could reach an accommodation, probably based on the French model whereby all couples undergo a civil wedding after which those who wish to, and who meet the criteria of the appropriate church, may then also have a religious wedding ceremony, I think many more in our country could live with this. Although this would not satisfy all who opposed the bill—and the idea was not considered, apparently, because it was beyond the scope of the bill—my personal view is that such a division between the functions of Church and State might have achieved much wider public acceptance, and some of the hurt that many thousands of the bill’s opponents are feeling might have been avoided, or at least lessened. I am personally disappointed that we are not able to consider and debate that option. Without it, I think this bill is putting the cart before the horse, and I remain unable to support it.
Although some proponents of the bill argue that religion should have nothing to do with our approach to this issue, that, in my view, is akin to arguing that parents should have no say over their children’s important and sometimes sensitive decisions during their formative years, or that unions and employers should have no say in our labour laws.
I acknowledge the major challenges faced by members of the select committee, and the respectful nature of the discussions for which I was present. I also acknowledge the architect of this bill, Louisa Wall. A few months ago I accepted an invitation from staff and pupils of Wellington High School to debate this topic with Louisa at one of the largest political meetings I have ever seen. Several of my colleagues thought I was mad and would probably be lynched. After my initial hesitation, however, I decided to do it, because I felt it was important for young people to have both sides of the argument to consider. Although I was in a minority of one when I started—and probably still when I finished—I was very impressed by the pupils’ courtesy and the interest they showed in the issue. I enjoyed the experience, and I respected the approach that Louisa Wall took that afternoon. Thank you, Louisa.
That aside, given the huge public interest in this topic and the significant ramifications of the change that is proposed, I am very disappointed that the committee was unable to hear many of those who took the trouble to prepare personal submissions and who asked to be given the opportunity to appear before the committee. I know from many from my own electorate who have spoken to me, and others from around the country who have written, that there are hundreds of New Zealanders who feel aggrieved at being shut out of the process on a discussion of a matter of such importance to them and to their faith communities, their cultural and ethnic groups, and so on.
This is not just for Christians—far from it—but, as I have said, my personal reservation remains primarily grounded in my Christian faith and my difficulty in believing that God wants this change to be made. This is not, in my view, evidence of a religion that is out of touch, or of Christians being unable to love others equally and without passing judgment, but it is about honouring him and his word. It is not to say that I have not been moved and challenged by many Christians, including four ministers in my own city, who have debated the issue with me and argued that just as Christ always sided with the persecuted and the marginalised in his own times, we should read into that that he would today side with gay couples who are currently denied the opportunity to marry. That is why I offered in good faith to work with those who felt the Civil Union Act needed to be strengthened, and I repeat that offer.
Some have said that this bill grants a basic human right. I do not believe that marriage is a universal human right, because there will always be those who do not meet the legal criteria to marry for various valid reasons. I have some sympathy for those who fear that if this bill is passed, pressure could arise at some future date for other changes to be made to the Marriage Act to accommodate changes that today would seem unthinkable. It is less than a decade since almost every member of this House, many of whom are still here, argued that a change to the Marriage Act of this nature was out of the question. That is why many New Zealanders regard this bill as a breach of faith by those they sent here to represent them.
Most societies have believed and most religions have taught, for thousands of years, that marriage is a sacred institution between one man and one woman who are over a certain age and not committed to any other relationship. It is sacred and said to represent, as I mentioned, the union between Christ and his Church. Maintaining this belief in 2013 has not suddenly become a bigoted or homophobic view just because this bill happened to be drawn from the member’s bill ballot last year. Yes, God loves us all equally, whether gay or straight, but he does not, in my view, approve all social change.
Although most who have written to me and, presumably, to other MPs from both sides of this debate—and, as I mentioned earlier, literally tens of thousands have done so—have been sincere in their views and respectful in the way they have expressed them, a few have been aggressive, insulting, and, though the irony appears to have escaped them, far more bigoted than anyone I have heard arguing for the status quo. It is clear that some of the most extreme writers on both sides of the debate refuse to consider that the alternative view to their own could have any merit whatsoever. I do not agree with them. I gave an undertaking to consider as many submissions as fairly and as objectively as I could, and I have done that.
I have been moved by the experiences and deeply held convictions of many who have made submissions to the select committee and who have contacted me on both sides of the debate. In particular, I acknowledge the distress of gay friends and constituents and others who have insisted very persuasively that being gay is not a choice and that they continue to feel that society treats them as inferior because of their orientation. I accept the former conclusion, and I very much regret that the latter is still true for many—I hope we will be able to move away from that. But to those who have dismissed my religious beliefs as worthless—and some have—or who have insisted that I could easily change those beliefs, and who have insisted that my support for the long-held definition of “marriage” means that I must be a bigot who is antagonistic to those who are campaigning for the changes and that I must also be homophobic, I say that those are not my views and I am not that person.
As I said, I would have welcomed debate on the merits of several compromises. I hope we may still be able to consider some, if, as expected, this bill progresses tonight to its Committee stage. I pray that God’s will be done.
Hon RUTH DYSON (Labour—Port Hills) : Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, can I thank you very much for that excellent choice in the fierce competition that there is on taking a call on this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. I was very privileged to chair the Government Administration Committee, which considered this bill, and therefore I am particularly pleased to be able to take a call. Normally at this stage of the debate I would take a 10-minute call, but out of respect to the number of people to whom we cannot refer, I would like the vote taken before 10 o’clock tonight, so I am going to take shorter time than I would like to, and certainly say fewer things than I would like to as well, because this is a really important issue for many people.
I want to acknowledge all the committee members who sat on the consideration of the bill, those who were for the bill and those who were against. I think that everyone tried really hard, on what is for most people an emotive issue, to be respectful and tolerant of people who disagreed with their view, and I want to thank the committee members for doing that. We were nearly 100 percent successful in that attempt. Likewise for the submitters. People were very nervous, very anxious, and very passionate, but again, almost without exception, they presented their views in an inoffensive and respectful manner.
I want to pay particular tribute to all the submitters, but particularly the young gay and lesbian submitters, for whom it must have been a very big and courageous step to talk about their own lives in front of people whom they did not know—people who as politicians make an art form out of intimidating people. We tried not to be intimidating, but nevertheless I am sure it was a very big step, particularly for those young people. People who talked about how they realised their sexual orientation made them different from their family members, from other people at school, or from people in their workplace, many of whom then tried to deny their sexual orientation as a result, who lived their life as a lie. People who were subjected to being bullied, who felt isolated or rejected by their family, who never felt part of the community or society that we all value so much.
For those people this is not going to change their world. This is not going to overnight change New Zealand into a completely tolerant and inclusive society, but it will be a lawful recognition of the value of their loving relationships, and for that reason alone I would support the bill. It is a step forward in recognising the value of love in our law regardless of the sexual orientation of the people who love.
I want to just briefly talk about a frustration I have. They say a frustration shared is a frustration that more people are frustrated about, so let me do that tonight. The changes that we have made to section 29 of the Marriage Act, which my colleague Louisa Wall has referred to, are specifically designed to ensure that religious freedoms are not trampled on by the Marriage Act, including this amendment, which I hope we progress tonight. We accept that religious freedom should continue in New Zealand. We received advice, we debated about it, we thought about it, and we took the best advice possible. I would be prepared to be a witness for a reformist minister in court and say that he has the right to deny a same-sex couple solemnisation of their wedding—should any same-sex couple want to ask a reformist minister to solemnise their wedding.
We also as part of the select committee process decided to repeal section 56, and I would recommend that people read that. We thought the language of the law was outdated. We do not propose, though, that this be an opportunity for people to denigrate other people’s relationships. We just thought that this was an old-fashioned bit of legislation.
The other bit of misinformation that I deeply resent and regret that is being put about by some opponents—and I say “some” because I know that many opponents have debated this issue on facts—is that we have taken out any references to husband and wife or gender-specific terms in the law. Our specific direction to the officials was to not do that. Frankly, I think it would not impact on many people. I will not stop calling my husband my husband, actually, regardless of what the law says. But we specifically said we wanted the law to recognise what people practised and wanted to do in our country, and the only references we have changed are those that were totally incomprehensible if we left the language as it was. So people who say we have gender-neutered the language are misinforming people, and they should be told to read the report from the select committee and read the amendment.
I am a very, very happily married heterosexual woman. I fail to see how enabling any other person in our country to have the opportunity to share in the joy and responsibility of marriage could harm anyone, but I am very able to see how much that could benefit the strength of our families and our communities. I am delighted with this legislation. I am very proud of the way the select committee worked on it. I know there were many submitters who did not have the opportunity to be heard. We read their submissions. We value their input. Those who were heard had a powerful impact on us. I think it has been a very good process, and one that I am very pleased to support.
CHRIS AUCHINVOLE (National) : In the first reading of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill I voted that it be sent to the Government Administration Committee to ensure a call for submissions and a platform for discussion, and I am very glad that I did that. Serving on the select committee as deputy chairman was instructive, illuminating, and educative, and it was a pleasure working with the Hon Ruth Dyson as chair. I wish now to speak to the considerations of the select committee. The one aspect that was universal—common to all submitters—was that marriage is special, precious, and desirable. Everyone said so, no matter which part of the argument they were interested in. The issue is over who can or cannot participate in it. Submitters were very definite in expressing their particular views.
I found there were three main groupings, and I would like to talk about them now. One grouping has an eschatological view of the bill—in other words, to pass the bill will be the beginning of the end of society as we know it. This was a very firmly held view. It is perceived as a slippery slope, leading to our ultimate demise as a nation and as a civilisation. I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of submitters who hold to this view. It was sincerity, though, that seemed to be entirely based on apprehension and fear and circular reasoning, rather than on a persuasive argument. Although I cannot imagine, if the bill passes, that a particularly large percentage of the population will suddenly take the opportunity to engage in same-gender marriages, I also cannot imagine that any number would make one iota of difference to the 41 years of marriage that my wife and I have enjoyed, or to anybody else’s heterosexual marriage. I cannot see it. I have thought deeply about this and cannot believe that the social impact of the bill would herald the demise and collapse of the wider societal values in New Zealand. I respect the right of those who wish to hold to that view, but I cannot give it currency in coming to a defined position on this bill.
Another grouping held a perception that this is counter to religious views and practices and represents State interference in religious practice, beliefs, and dogma. The select committee listened very carefully and sincerely to the concerns expressed. As someone who had 5 years as a lay minister for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa / New Zealand and was a member of the council of assembly for the Presbyterian Church, I had a particular interest in this aspect of the discussion. It became clear through listening that the overriding concern is that the clergy and those authorised by religious bodies to conduct marriages would be obliged—indeed, forced—to conduct ceremonies for same-gender couples should the bill be passed. We have already heard from the Hon Ruth Dyson about section 29 of the Marriage Act, which has always stipulated that it authorises but does not oblige any marriage celebrant to solemnise a marriage to which the licence relates. The select committee has recommended a new clause that makes it abundantly clear that ministers of religion or celebrants from approved organisations are not obliged to solemnise a marriage if to do so would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or approved organisation.
I thoroughly enjoy theological discussion and have a huge appetite for it. I have been most grateful for the opportunity to sit with clergy from many different denominations and engage with them on this issue. By providing and ensuring that this bill deals only with secular issues—I will say it again: it deals only with secular issues—it nevertheless leaves a dilemma for established religious groups that wish to differentiate their churches or holy matrimony from the new definition if the bill passes. It is not for the State to have a view on this. It is for the churches to resolve in their own way and time, and I look forward to engaging in that discussion in a personal capacity in my own time.
The third consideration—we have heard it spoken by my colleague and friend Tim Macindoe this evening—is that marriage is an institution: time honoured, never changing, and having the essential components of one man and one woman common to all countries and civilisations throughout the millennia until death do them part. It ain’t necessarily so. I am privileged to have my wife in the gallery tonight. My wife and I married on 11 March, 41 years ago last Monday, and lived happily ever after. But the question that exercised the upper echelons of ecclesiastic minds in those days was whether or not the bride should take a vow of obedience to her husband. If you are marrying a red-headed West Coast girl from a West Coast aristocratic family, some hope! During that same time, to have children born out of wedlock was a hamper to church marriage, as was a divorce, or, indeed, wanting to marry someone of a different religion. Banns of marriage were called from pulpits, advising that people were intending marriage, and others were invited to give reasons why that marriage should not proceed or to for ever hold their peace. Marriage is not an unchanging institution, and although most of its institutional aspects have been laudable for men, they have often been less than favourable for women.
Some statistics to show this change to the institution are quite illuminating. Twenty-three percent of marriages are conducted in a registry office, 32 percent of marriages are conducted in a church, and 45 percent are conducted by independent marriage celebrants. The figures shout out change that we cannot close our ears to. I found it personally significant that from the—wait for the figures—9,347 independent marriage celebrants, which is nearly 10,000 independent marriage celebrants, and 530 civil union celebrants, so that is 10,500 all together, the select committee received two—two—submissions.
The last two aspects I wish to touch on are the matters of conscience and the question of family coming first. In terms of conscience, I have given much, much thought to this. I am acquainted with guilt. Being a Presbyterian, one goes through life thinking that one has not worked hard enough, has not done enough, and has not reached the requirement that life’s opportunities offer, and you will always get other members who will tell you that, as one did this evening. To assuage my conscience on this issue, I delved back in my life to the age of understanding, which I think those of Catholic persuasion tell me the Jesuits determine is at 7 years old, when I was a boy. I looked at catechismic values when learning the catechism by rote in Glasgow: “Who made you?” “God made me.” “Why did God make you?” “God made me to know him and love him.” The third question: “What image did God make you in?” The answer: “God made me in his own image.” Every 7-year-old boy and girl said the same and believed it was true. They did not have to add: “… as long as I conform to being heterosexual, and not to loving anyone of the same gender as myself.” My conscience is very clear on this issue. Every person has the same spiritual claim as one another to being made in the image of God, and it will take a braver person than I am to deny that. I have addressed the question of eschatology in my mind, the question of ensuring religious freedom, and the assumption of benign institutionalisation. My conscience is not clouded or indeed involved in this issue.
As an older person, we do have baggage to carry of remembering when homosexuality was illegal—in fact, it was criminal—and it was, we were told, immoral. There were two definite groups of people who came and made submissions before us, and it was what I would call a generational divide. So, in dealing with the legacy of discriminatory prejudice—and I would not want that to be a deciding feature—I prayerfully ask to be able to internalise and resolve this complicated situation in my head, in my heart, and in my soul. What I learnt from listening to the submissions, colleagues, was that in fact each homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person appearing before us was not to be seen just as an individual, not to be identified just by gender preference, but in fact to be seen as a mother’s son or a daughter, and a father’s daughter or son, as siblings to their brothers and sisters, grandchildren to their grandparents, nephews and nieces to their uncles and aunts, and uncles and aunts to their nephews and nieces, and cousins to their cousins. They are all family, along with their heterosexual friends and relations, and all are an integral part of the New Zealand family, and all are part—in my mind, in my heart, and in my conscience—of God’s family. I now realise that this bill seeks to put first something that critics have accused it of undermining, and that is the family. We as parliamentarians should not simply look past the interests of the applicants for this bill. We should not simply look at their interests. We should, and we must, look after their interests. We should pass this bill.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD (Labour—Hutt South) : For the reasons outlined by my friend and colleague Ruth Dyson, I will speak for a relatively short time as well. I want to thank her for her able chairing of the Government Administration Committee, and I thank the previous speaker, Chris Auchinvole, for the work he did also on that select committee.
I will speak to contrast the attitude of most of the submitters to the select committee with my experience of chairing a select committee on a similar subject 27 years ago.
Hon Ruth Dyson: You were about 17.
Hon TREVOR MALLARD: When I was 17, says Ruth. It was earlier, as opposed to the mid-point of my career.
There is no doubt that the winds of change have blown. They have moved us a very, very long way, and that is reflected not only in society’s attitude over the period of time, but in the attitude of members of Parliament and the public as they have taken part in this debate. It is enormously different. There are a few of my colleagues who were there at the time, but the attitude of some members from one side—Graeme Lee, John Banks, and Norman Jones—was appalling. It was absolutely shocking and revolting. Some of the people who spoke for that legislation were not that flash either. I think of Trevor de Cleene, whose main thrust was: “Just don’t make it compulsory.” I think that was the line that Trevor de Cleene took. But I was proud, at that time, at the third reading, to be the teller for the Ayes and to come out and put five fingers in the air, because that was the margin that we got. Times have changed.
I am going to now surprise some people by saying that I have a lot in common with the position that Tim Macindoe got to. I think actually that the State has almost no role in marriage. My view is that if everyone had a civil union, or went to the State and got a bit of paper that said: “You are married”, and then went off to their church, or if they wanted to dance around a fire on the beach—have whatever appropriate celebration of that new relationship that they wanted—then that would be the best approach. But I have canvassed colleagues. What became clear to me is that the winds of change have not quite blown that far yet. Colleagues in the House do feel that the State has a role in marriage, and if that is to be the case then in my view it has to be equal for all. Thank you.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS (Leader—NZ First) : I wish to move the following amendment: to delete all words after “That” and to substitute “a referendum be held at the time of the next general election to decide whether the Marriage Act 1955 should be amended to recognise marriage between two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member should, if he is going to speak, continue to speak. I would ask that I have a written copy of the amendment, please. So, just continue.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: This is clearly about many issues and many beliefs, and you have heard them tonight and for many years, and over the last few months in particular. But it is also about the right of the people of this country to be heard, the right of New Zealanders to all have their say, and to evince their equality with anyone who sits in this Parliament. New Zealand has a proud tradition of democracy. It is in our cultural DNA. We are one of only nine countries that can claim an unbroken line of democracy—that is, elections on a regular term—for the last 1½ centuries. We are a seriously unique country in that context, and the democratic traditions of New Zealand are part of who we are as a nation.
Tonight, for reasons that members may best understand themselves, that tradition is again under threat. We stand on the verge of passing legislation that would radically change the institution of marriage. No one, in tonight’s debate, watching television or being here tonight would surely dispute that. We stand on the verge of passing legislation that would radically change the institution of marriage—my party is not here to argue the merits of that—but we are going to go about it without any democratic mandate at all.
Who here, in the last campaign, said we were going to do this? Who here, in the last campaign—
Hon Members: We did.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Oh, we did. Is that true? Well, I do not recall the advertisements. I do not recall the hoardings. I do not recall the proud boasts when it was thought that votes would be forfeit.
So we can make that frivolous statement, but tonight I am asking you this: why do you think that your knowledge of this country is preferable to that of the mass majority of adult New Zealanders? Answer that question. Do you still feel that you have an entitlement that is superior to that of the ordinary people of this country who, after all, we are meant to serve and not become the directors of? We are doing it without any democratic mandate at all. Have no doubt about this. The New Zealand people have been denied the chance to vote on one of the most polarising issues of our age.
This is not to argue the merits of each side. The proponents of Ms Wall’s bill point to the select committee process as being some sort of vindication. Well, if that is true, is that a mandate? If that is true, is it good enough? If that is true, why do you not trust your fellow New Zealanders? What is it about the New Zealand people, whom you forswore to serve all your parliamentary days, that you do not trust and think you have a superior knowledge of? If the select committee submissions revealed anything, it is that the public opinion in this country is widely split. We all accept that. But where is the majority in our country? Where is the mandate? [Interruption] This may seem tiresome, but just yesterday we were talking about the need to ask the country about asset sales.
We all know that there is a massive majority of New Zealanders who are, despite our politics, against the sale of assets. How can something be meritorious yesterday and 24 hours later not be meritorious? Answer that question. Such a major legislative change must be based on the collective will of New Zealanders, not 121 temporarily empowered MPs. Most of these people are going to be gone tomorrow—we all know that—so why would you not repose the trust in the voters of this country as against the people who sit here? It is called democracy, for goodness’ sake. If New Zealand is going to have a proper debate—
Sue Moroney: Go and get your 400,000 signatures.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Someone just said to me “Go and get the signatures.” Oh, really? Well, why not do what Washington and other great people in history have done? Why not ask the people? What is so wrong with that? What can be wrong, if you have the overwhelming majority of 4 million New Zealanders, expressed by their adults, in a referendum? Where is the sin here, in actually reposing the trust in the people of this country?
We are calling for a referendum on this issue to give all New Zealanders the same say as these people here tonight. Why not? What could possibly be wrong or unprincipled or unfair in letting the people of New Zealand decide this issue for themselves, and in knowing then, whichever side of the argument we end up on, that the public have decided and, therefore, because we believe in democracy we must live with their choice? What could be so wrong with that?
In the past so often—and there are people in the gallery tonight, watching TV tonight, and in this House, who know there has been an enormous fundamental disconnect between politicians and voters. We have seen and endured this on occasion after occasion, particularly over the last 30 years. No one could dispute that tonight. On so many occasions we have seen politicians blatantly lying about their intentions. There cannot be anyone who is watching tonight’s debate who does not understand that.
You know, tonight we are actually seeing it in this sense: there is a recurring theme here, and we wonder why a million people did not vote at the last election who were entitled to. There were one million such New Zealanders in a country that used to pride itself that even though the vote was voluntary, we used to outperform Australia, where the vote was compulsory. That was a recent boast, but a million never turned out at the last election, and I can see, and I am sure some of you see, why that is. They think that their voice does not matter. Echoing out of this House tonight and reverberating around the country, all around New Zealand, is an expression saying: “You don’t matter. You don’t count. You’re just Joe Bloggs out in the suburbs or somewhere else, or in some backblocks place.”, when, in fact, this should be an empowering expression from New Zealand.
There is nothing New Zealanders hate more than politicians who think they know best. There is nothing more odious, more loathsome, than politicians who think they know best. This debate, sadly, and I am not doubting the integrity of any side of this debate, shows a terrible indifference in 2013, when all of our expressions are about transparency, openness, and taking the people with us. There is an absolute apathy and indifference to democracy. It portrays a feeling of moral and intellectual superiority that some people in this Chamber hold. My challenge to you up there, right now, and around this country is: do you think these people are better able to judge this issue than you?
Hon Member: Yeah.
Rt Hon WINSTON PETERS: Oh, no, you do not. Oh, no, you do not, because there is no one who believes in democracy who does not want to have the decision shared with their family, their friends, their community, and indeed their nation with them themselves. I think the people of this country are being grievously let down tonight, because there is an enormous sense of haste and argument here, but there is also the feeling that we again will take the people for granted.
My party proposes a referendum. My party says that we believe that the people of this country are better able to decide this issue than anybody else is. If you do not trust the people, pray tell me, who are they going to trust now?
KEVIN HAGUE (Green) : I want to begin by echoing the Hon Ruth Dyson and the Hon Trevor Mallard in expressing my appreciation of the officials who worked so hard servicing the needs of the Government Administration Committee and also to all of those members who sat on the select committee with me, both those who favour the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill and those who oppose it. I believe they all did their job sincerely and well. I particularly praise the job that was done by the Hon Ruth Dyson in the chair—and, indeed, by Chris Auchinvole who, on occasion, was also in the chair—in creating a culture in the select committee hearings of respect and integrity.
Some of the submissions that we heard from people speaking in favour of the bill were hard to listen to. They shared with the committee their own stories of the damage that prejudice and discrimination had brought them—friends lost to suicide, their own self-harm, depression, and isolation—and they told us also about their love. It was wonderful to have lesbian, gay, transgendered, and bisexual people come to the committee and speak about the people they love, their hopes for the future, and the powerful difference this bill will make in their lives.
Some people came with their partner. On one occasion a young woman gave her submission with her partner, her parents, her sisters, and one of her sister’s fiancé. Heterosexual people and couples came and told us how they felt about marriage not being available to their gay friends. Parents came; children came. They spoke about love and about belonging; that the institutions of a society like marriage form a kind of rope that binds society together across the generations and through history. Not all of us want to get married, but what we heard on the committee was a strong yearning for respect, for belonging, and to add our strands to that rope.
It was striking that the submissions for the bill came from a huge range of organisations and individuals, offering an array of different perspectives—personal, religious, health, legal, and human rights were just some of those. By way of contrast, submissions opposed to the bill, although also sincere and strongly held, represented typically quite a narrow range of views and one particular perspective. Almost all of the submissions opposed to the bill came from a religious perspective. Most of them reflected the submission guide that had been circulated by a particular lobby group, often verbatim—including the errors.
I want to make two broad generalisations about the debate overall. Firstly, from the word go Louisa Wall and those of us who have been working for this bill have been absolutely clear that we have no wish to restrict the religious freedom of others. We know that some churches still had some doubt about that, but the select committee, rather than getting bogged down in whether their doubts had any validity, has moved to put the matter beyond doubt. The existing relationship between church and State has been preserved, with no church required to do or to say anything differently. Although the church voice that has been heard loudest has been one opposed to the bill, all the while there have been faiths, denominations, and congregations within denominations who wished to be able to conduct same-sex marriages and whose freedom of religion has been constrained by the existing law. Passing this bill into law will extend religious freedoms, and will not restrict them in any way.
The second general point I want to make is that as I read the submissions I was more and more struck by the difference in world view they represented. Those in favour of the bill typically see New Zealand as a pluralistic society in which this Parliament needs to create a framework that supports, and provides for, a multiplicity of cultures, beliefs, and value systems. By way of contrast, those opposed to the bill believe that this Parliament should legislate for a strict code of behaviour that conforms to a single or very tightly restricted set of beliefs and values based on their own religious belief. They believe all must comply with this behaviour code, regardless of whether or not they share the beliefs on which it is based.
We heard a lot about tradition. Those opposed said that the institution of marriage should not be changed, because of tradition. Those who support the bill showed that progress can occur only by changing historical practices. As Chris Auchinvole has so ably demonstrated, this has been the case with marriage many times over. This was graphically illustrated by so many of the arguments against this bill being precisely those that were used in the United States to try to justify continuing bans on interracial marriage: tradition, slippery slope, God’s will—all the same arguments. The landmark Supreme Court case to finally end such bans in the United States was Loving v Virginia—kind of ironic—in 1967, although the last of those laws was removed in Alabama only in the year 2000. Mildred, a black woman, and Richard, a white man, fought a 9-year battle to have their marriage recognised in their home state.
In 2007, then aged 68, a year before her death, Mildred Loving made a very rare statement about same-sex marriage, delivered on the 40th anniversary of the historic decision: “Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the ‘wrong kind of person’ for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, [no matter their sex,] no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights. I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all.” It is time.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: I took the precaution of actually sending to whips beforehand what may be a preferential way of doing this, which was principally the mover of the bill, select committee members or leaders of the House, and then I as Speaker would choose subsequently after that. I have noted the member’s intention to take a call.
KANWALJIT SINGH BAKSHI (National) : Thank you for this opportunity for me to speak on the second reading of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. Before I talk about the bill, I thank all the staff and officials who worked during the select committee hearings and the collection of submissions. A significant number of submissions were received both against and in favour of the bill. I would also like to thank all the submitters for their written and oral submissions. I also take this opportunity to thank the chair of the Government Administration Committee, the Hon Ruth Dyson, and other members for all the hard work they have put into this process.
I begin by sharing some of the words from the holy Guru Granth Sahib, the living Guru of Sikhs: AwalAllaahNoorUpaavaKudratKēSabBandeEkNoor Te Sab Jag UpjavaKaunBhaleKaunMande. When translated, this would most likely read: “The Lord first created his own Light and out of This Light was created all human beings. How can there be one human being good and other cannot be?”.
My religious belief and faith is Sikhism. The purpose of me sharing those words with my parliamentary colleagues and you is to clarify that it is not in my religion, culture, or heritage to discriminate against anyone on any base. I do not believe that any one of us residing in New Zealand is a second-class citizen. I know that for some of my Opposition colleagues redefining what constitutes marriage may not be much of a big deal. However, from what my community has shared with me, for most of us it is. I base my opposition not on any historic belief but, rather, on what I saw and heard when I went with an open mind to the select committee hearings across New Zealand. However, at each of the select committee hearings none of the arguments presented by the submitters provided any significant rationale for redefining the word “marriage”.
Furthermore, the rights that are being sought are already provided for under the Civil Union Act. In case there are any changes required in civil union law, that Act can be tweaked to accommodate these changes. However, to change the definition of “marriage” from what it has historically been is something that offends the majority of people, who consider it inappropriate, especially when those arguing for the change have little in the way of reasoning to support their argument.
The basis of this bill is that marriage as a social institution is a fundamental human right for all people, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. All people should therefore have an equal opportunity to act without discrimination or limiting the human rights to one group in this society only, which would not allow for equality. In my counterargument, can I just say that the right to marry is not and never can be an absolute human right. The law of this country does not permit close family members to marry each other, or children, or people who are already married. In each case, there is good reason for such restrictions. None of them can be classified as discrimination.
Can I also ask a counter-question? Does everyone who is opposed to the view put forward not enjoy the same human rights as people who seek this amendment? Do we have the right to express what we feel about this issue, which stands to change our society? Mirroring the claim that same-sex marriage is a basic human right is correct—if this was the case, the rights would have been entrenched in major international human rights agreements signed by New Zealand, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those who argue that by proposing this bill they seek to defend the human rights do sound righteous, but people who advocate for the change have in my opinion failed to consider the grave implication that the change they seek will have for our society.
Moreover, those who feel reckless about redefining marriage should ask whether including polygamous relationships should be consented for our society. They should ask the question to themselves: what would be the impact of agreeing to the polygamous relationship in our society? Apart from the rational argument and the question I have put forward earlier, I ask a simple question of those who argue that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry: does the word “marriage” add any sugar or flavour to their relationship?
During one of the public hearings I was pleased to see a family who had come to support their daughter’s submission. By the way, the submission was in support of the bill. The family bond is one special thing we are fortunate to enjoy in New Zealand. During the hearing, I asked the family whether being in a civil union or marriage would affect her or her family bond in any manner. They said no. Some have classed my comment as discriminatory. Again, I refer to my opening statement and assure all my brothers and sisters that I believe in humanity and human rights as much as they do. All human beings are equal, regardless of where they come from. I honestly do not believe that in standing by my position on marriage I am discriminating against anyone. Marriage for me is something that has unique sanctity inherent in its divine origin, given to humanity as the pattern and the plan for the perpetuation of society.
This attempt to redefine marriage is causing a considerable amount of anxiety in religious organisations and their staff. The prevailing view of churches from Catholic to Pentecost is that the marriage is spiritually sacred to many people in our society. The New Zealand Christian community as a whole rejects the notion that there is no biblical view of marriage. The standard biblical view of marriage, first revealed in Genesis and then endorsed by Jesus, is the faithful union of one man and one woman. Any other form of marriage is not endorsed by old testaments. The idea of same-sex marriage is biblically unthinkable. Therefore, the Church also considers that the Civil Union Act 2004 already provides for the clear societal recognition and legal protection of same-sex relationships. The select committee listened very closely to the submissions made by the Church and therefore recommended that in case the bill is passed, no church minister or pastor can be forced to undertake a same-sex wedding. This, I think, is an excellent example of how democratic our nation is.
As a citizen of this country, I acknowledge, accept, and respect the aspiration of the homosexual people as citizens of Aotearoa to have their partnership recognised by society and fully protected by the law. However, the social and legal arguments presented by those forwarding this argument do not make a compelling case. My concern is to protect the uniqueness of the marriage as a union of a man and a woman.
Once again, I fully endorse the principle of equality as human beings. However, I assert that although the people are equal, not all relationships are the same. Rather than listening to the catchcries that are based on individualistic argument, we parliamentarians must consider the large public good and expectations when we vote on this bill. The larger public good and expectation is that most New Zealanders do not accept this. Society believes it has the right to do anything for ever. It takes little or no responsibility for the consequences of its actions. Australians, our neighbours, have recently defeated the equivalent legislation of our marriage amendment bill, with the resulting vote of 42 in favour and 98 against. I hope—
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The member’s time has expired.
Hon LIANNE DALZIEL (Labour—Christchurch East) : I have participated in more than one debate in this Parliament in my time here. The first time that I participated in a debate on a subject that really has been a platform for where we are now was on the 1993 amendments to the Human Rights Act that took effect on 1 February 1994. I have not been here as long as Trevor Mallard has, but I remember that debate very, very well. The second one was the civil union legislation. I do want to speak briefly to both of those, because they are relevant to why we are here tonight.
I remember participating in the human rights debate as if it were yesterday. In fact, of the number of submissions that came into that select committee, which I had the honour of serving on, most of them did not actually deal at all with all of the amendments to the human rights legislation. They focused on the Supplementary Order Paper very bravely progressed by Katherine O’Regan, who was an Associate Minister in the Government at the time. She made sure that sexual orientation and also diseases capable of causing—no, infection—oh, I cannot remember what it was, but it was the HIV status clause. She enabled people to have a say about whether that should become part of our human rights architecture. Fortunately, that was passed by this House, and, at the same time, that legislation changed our New Zealand Bill of Rights Act. That was a substantial advance in this country, and I was very proud to be part of that debate.
Actually, I remember standing in this House. I was standing up the front, speaking in the third reading of the debate, and it was about 9 o’clock in the morning because we were speaking under urgency. I remember standing here, and I was so tired because we had been up until midnight the night before, and I just said: “Today I just feel so proud to be a member of Parliament.”, and I really, really felt that way. If you remember the early 1990s, there were not a lot of things that I felt particularly proud of back then, so it really was a major achievement.
But what I remember about that night, after the debate was over, was that I was invited to appear on television to stand up for what I had voted for. I appeared debating the issue with, on the other side, a gentleman called Graham Capill from one of the religious political parties. I just want everyone in this House to think for one minute about where he is today. So, as I said, I felt very proud of that moment, supporting that legislation, and it was a major, major change.
I should have been the Minister who introduced the civil union legislation. I really am very sad that I was not. Tragically, I decided to take time out for bad behaviour at the time, and as a result my colleague the Hon David Benson-Pope had the honour of taking that legislation through the House. The disadvantage of not being able to steer that legislation through the House was immediately overtaken by the great pleasure I had in hearing the submissions, and I pay tribute to Ruth Dyson and all members of the Government Administration Committee for having taken up that challenge with this particular piece of legislation, and for doing so in such a respectful way. The feedback I have had from people on both sides of the debate is that they felt honoured and respected by the committee, so I do thank the committee for that and thank Ruth Dyson for her great leadership in that regard.
As I said, lots of the arguments that have been heard today were heard then, but I have to say that the noise was much louder then. I have to say that the noise has dampened down. I do not feel that there is the strength of the objections that existed back then, and I think there is a very simple reason for that. A lot of the dire predictions that were made at that time simply did not come to pass, as they had not in 1993, and as they had not in the year—what was it—BC or whenever Trevor Mallard was debating the previous legislation.
The point is that I went back and I looked at my first reading speech for the civil union legislation, and I actually found a speech that I could have given tonight. I said back then that the Marriage Act was discriminatory. Every single thing I said in my speech was actually not in support of civil union; it was in support of an amendment to the Marriage Act. I wish we had been able to go there then, but we could not, and I am really proud of my friend Louisa Wall for bringing this bill to the House tonight. I quoted Baroness Hale, who had recently made a decision in the UK. She said that the guarantee of equal treatment is “essential to democracy”—and it is.
This is not the slippery slope. I actually went online before to find out what is the alternative, what is the opposite, of a slippery slope. I found that it was a leap of faith, and that is what we are doing here tonight, as we have done all the way along this journey. It is not a slippery slope; it is about understanding where our democracy must stand. It must stand for human rights.
I said in my third reading speech on the civil union legislation that I had a lot of luck on my side when I chose the circumstances of my birth. I was born to the majority status in every single respect. I was white, I was female, and I was heterosexual, and I was born into what was then called the one true faith—I was born into the Catholic Church. I said that what concerned me at the time was that some representatives of that Church had, essentially, asked me to set aside one of the principles it stands for and one of the values it taught me, and that was the one that affirms committed, faithful, loving relationships between two people who wish to share their lives together.
I stand by those values. That is why I stood by the civil union legislation, that is why I stand by this marriage amendment bill tonight, and that is why I believe that the people who have supported this bill actually speak to those values in exactly the same way that we did back then. I hope that this House can see its way clear to seeing the passage of this legislation today, and the rest of the passage of this bill, go down in history as a day that we stood proudly for human rights.
Hon TAU HENARE (National) : Thank you for recognising me for the eighth time, Mr Deputy Speaker. You know, there is nothing quite like an idea whose time has come. There is nothing quite like an MP with an idea whose time has come. I want to say all power to my colleague Louisa Wall. I will not take too much of the House’s time. I know there are a few people across the way and even in my own party who will be silently clapping.
What I despise most of all about the process that we are going through tonight—or what I am going through—is the blatant gerrymandering of the process. I want to say to my party that I am appalled by that behaviour. I am appalled at some of the behaviour I have seen tonight and the outright not telling of the truth.
When something like this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, comes before the House, a person has to ask themselves how it impacts on them. How does the decision that the House makes impact on me, my wife, and my family? The funny thing is that most legislation impacts on you somehow. This bill, on the other hand, does not impact me one little bit. It does not affect me, it does not hurt me, and it does not help me. It has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with my sanity, with my lack of sanity, with my happiness, or with my lack of happiness. It has everything to do with other people’s sanity, everything to do with other people’s happiness, and everything to do with how they choose to run their lives.
I am remiss. I was a bit angry at the beginning—just a wee bit. I dedicate this speech not only to my very dear colleague Louisa Wall but also to my cousin who passed away 3 or 4 weeks ago—to Kathryn Henare, my first cousin. I was remiss in not saying her name.
The other question I like to ask myself when legislation is brought to the House is whether the sky is going to fall in. I have got to say that it ain’t going to fall in, and tomorrow the sun—actually, that might not be a good thing to say, because there is a drought—is going to come up again.
Dr Cam Calder: Rain’s on the way.
Hon TAU HENARE: And rain is on the way, but not because of this bill.
I do want to have a free shot. I want to make mention of the referendum issue, which my former leader, colleague, party mate, bench mate—
Andrew Williams: Mentor.
Hon TAU HENARE: —mentor, brother in arms spoke about. I want to say to New Zealand First that it is the only party in this House that steadfastly believes in the issue of referendum. I take my hat off to New Zealand First for having that position throughout the years. If there is one thing that it has been consistent on, it is the issue of a referendum.
But now I turn my little wee guns on those who have conveniently found the issue of a referendum; those who have suddenly become revolutionary on the issue of a referendum—
Hon Trevor Mallard: Resolute.
Hon TAU HENARE: —and resolute in their determination to push the idea of a referendum. If I was to believe them, then why are we not having a referendum on asset sales? Why are we not having a referendum on all sorts and all manner of things? So to my colleagues, whom I hold dear to my heart, including Mr Bennett, who has tried vigorously all day to get me to support a referendum, I say that it is a bit late, brother, to be thinking about a referendum. It is a bit late, and, quite frankly, it is wrong to think that you can govern a country through the referendum issue. It will not work, it has never worked, and I do not support it.
One of the final things I want to say is that if the so-called institution of marriage was so sacrosanct, then why are there so many people opting out of marriages? Why are there so many divorces? I am not an expert on marriage. I have been married for only just over 365 days. But what I do want to know is why we cannot offer the same opportunities to everybody rather than only a few people in our nation. I have to say—and I suppose I should quote Dr Paul Hutchison when he said in the first reading of this bill that he could not find any good reason to vote against it. I too am like that. I think that everybody should be like Dr Paul Hutchison and think very seriously, and have a look at it and say that they cannot find any good reason to vote against this piece of legislation. I commend this bill to the House, and I commend my colleague Louisa Wall.
JAN LOGIE (Green) : I am proud to stand here today as a Green voice in support of my impressive colleague Louisa Wall’s bill for marriage equality, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill. The Green Party is voting en bloc in support of this bill because for us it is a human rights issue and there is no matter of conscience when it comes to rights and equality under the law. For us, even if the majority of New Zealand was opposed to this bill, we would still support it, because we understand that human rights exist to protect the minority from the majority, and that is what this bill does. I would like to acknowledge my colleague Kevin Hague, who has worked so hard for us on behalf of the Greens on this kaupapa, and to everyone else who sat on the Government Administration Committee. I know that hearing the stories of pain and injury caused by discrimination can be really hard, so I honour you for that work. I would like to then acknowledge everyone—and many of you, I know, are here tonight—who shared your personal stories with the committee, with this House, and in this process to help us make the right decision tonight. I really hope that your stories guide our votes.
And I hope that for the really beautiful, young queer people, some of whom I also know are here tonight, whom I met a few months ago and who told me that they would cry if Parliament ever had a queer-straight alliance, I hope they are going to cry tonight, because I hope this is going to be an example of a queer-straight alliance standing up for all of our rights. And so far I have been so encouraged by how much progress we have made in this debate and to see that 7 years on from the debate around civil unions, eight out of nine political party leaders are supporting this bill. I do believe as a country we are making progress.
One of the reasons I support this bill is for my mum and dad. When I came out, my parents really struggled. They did not, and they do not, live in the lovely liberal bubble that I do in Wellington. They do not have my beautiful community to tell them that my identity, and, by association, they and their identity, are OK. They have worried. They have worried for me and they have at times worried about how people would judge them. So I want my parents to know that society has moved on and that there is less chance now that I or they will be judged for my sexuality.
But most important, I think, for me, I want those people who have been bullying our young queer and trans people to know that as a society we have ended legal discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and we have taken one more step towards ending discrimination on the basis of gender identity. We have moved on and they are now well and truly out of step. Although I have no desire to marry, even if someone was asking, I do want the possibility for my friends, and others who want to, to do so. I want to see that equality in our law. Civil unions are not equality. People who are not told they cannot marry cannot tell us that that is equality. Civil unions are a compromise. They tell us and the rest of society that there is something intrinsically different about our emotions and our relationships. Although I absolutely celebrate difference, even after reading all the submissions and all the emails that tell me otherwise, I still do not believe that our love is essentially different.
The day before the first reading, a friend celebrated 5 years together with her partner. She has a house with her partner, they parent a child together, and they share their lives together. That day they marched for marriage equality together, because their relationship is just as valid as any heterosexual couple’s. Although I definitely believe that that is true without this law, I want them to know that this Parliament also thinks that is true. I want them to be assured that we see their relationship as intrinsically the same as that between a loving man and woman. I want them and their little one to know that this society does not discriminate on the basis of sexuality and, one day, entirely not on the basis of gender identity. And I want someone who is married and then transitions in their gender, and who is then married to somebody of the same gender, not to have to divorce their partner, as they have to do now. And I want heterosexual friends, like my colleague Holly Walker, to be able to marry in good conscience, knowing that her gay friends can, too—if that is what she wants to do.
Marriage has changed over time, mostly for the better, and now it just needs this change to reflect our current social norm. I am pleased the Greens and so many of us in this Parliament recognise this issue for what it is: an issue of rights and an opportunity to legislate for the possibility of a society without discrimination. Kia ora.
Hon CHESTER BORROWS (Minister for Courts) : It is a privilege to be able to stand in the House and speak in this debate, and I want to congratulate members from right across the House on the way in which they have conducted this debate from the moment this bill, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, was introduced, or even discussed, and right through the select committee process. Unfortunately, I was not part of the select committee process, but all reports are that those people on the Government Administration Committee conducted themselves very well.
I think it is a real shame that people on different sides of this debate outside the Chamber do not think those of us who think differently from others within the House hate enough. The fact is that all of us can respect the views of those who are in here and who are making speeches tonight. I find myself in the situation where I agree with so many speakers—those who are speaking for the way I intend to vote and those are speaking against it. I do agree, for instance, with the last speaker, Jan Logie, that all relationships should be treated in exactly the same way, whether they be heterosexual marriages or whether they be civil unions between heterosexual couples or gay couples, or long-term de facto relationships between heterosexual couples or gay couples.
I believe that the fundamental issue here is the equality of long-term relationships and the status they have before the law, and I believe that that is the issue that we should have the courage to debate tonight. I do not believe that changing the definition of marriage to include gay couples is the way to do it. I believe that that is a different way of trying to achieve the main objective, which is to achieve that legal status.
I find abhorrent the way that various groups have acted throughout the course of this debate. As a Christian—a conservative Christian—I find abhorrent the way that Christians have entered into this debate and the threatening nature with which they have emailed colleagues. I know of colleagues who set out thinking they would vote against this bill and changed their minds because of the way they have been treated by Christians who supposedly worship in their daily lives and witness a loving God. If they profess to worship that God, then it is a different God whom I worship and whom I believe in, because they have shown nothing of that love—that all-encompassing love—in the way that they have conducted themselves in this debate.
It is unfortunate that in every debate where fundamentalist Christians get involved in lobbying one side or another, they always bring out the worst, and they seek to shove those people who do not hold to our faith into a pigeon-hole that would brand us all in the same way. I think that is a despicable way for people of faith to behave.
My fundamental concern with this bill, as I stated earlier, is that it seeks to redefine marriage as something other than a heterosexual institution, which it has always been, albeit the odd exception when some Greek wanted to marry his manservant, and no doubt somewhere back in history someone wanted to marry some other creature from another species. It does not mean, for instance, that that detracts from that fundamental definition of what marriage is.
Marriage does not belong to Christianity. It does not belong to any religion or ethnicity. It has been there since time immemorial, and it has always been relative to a heterosexual couple. I do not believe that changing that definition addresses the fundamental issues, which are about the equality of long-term relationships before the law. If, for instance, it is directed at the prejudice within the Adoption Act that is brought about by that definition of marriage, then I need to state right here that I would vote for that change in the adoption law, because I believe the overriding principle is what is in the best interests of children. So I think this House needs to have the courage to define clearly what the issue is and to have that debate, no matter how unpopular that may be and no matter how much trouble we may well get into.
I also want to just acknowledge a number of comments that members around the House have made, and they are about how far we have come. I know within my own experience how far I have come in relation to these issues, and that is about that circle of friends. I acknowledge again Jan Logie, who talked about the liberal bubble that she lives in. The wider the circle of friends, no doubt, the more contact that brings, as has been the case for me. I have a number of gay friends and gay relatives whom I love and whose friendship I treasure, and I consider it a privilege to be part of their lives.
I have also experienced the prejudice that those people have experienced within their communities. One is a particular cousin of mine, an Exclusive Brethren person, who, having come out, has had to leave the faith and his family. His acknowledgment of his status has meant that he has lost absolutely everything. Thankfully, he has been welcomed by a loving and caring gay community and an understanding heterosexual community, and I believe that that is a good thing.
I want to finish off with another point, and it is about the comment that the Hon Tau Henare made in respect of decisions that we make not affecting us. The fact is that we are here making decisions that will affect the lives of others, and maybe they will affect us as well. I do not accept any suggestion, for instance, that a gay couple being allowed to be married is going to affect my 34-year marriage to Ella, the same way as my good friend Chris Auchinvole does not see that it would affect his marriage. That is not the point. The point is that what we have is a group of people who will be affected by their fundamental beliefs in the fact that they see marriage as a heterosexual institution. By changing that, they will be affected in that way, and by enhancing the view of those who see it differently, you automatically suppress those views, and I would have thought that people who had lived under the wrongly oppressive regime for so long would understand that and we could find another way about it.
I want to finish now, because I recognise that time is short, by once again restating that I think that this Parliament has conducted itself with exceptional integrity, and the population of New Zealand, no matter how they would vote on this issue, should recognise that. The fact that we can debate strongly different points of view here but acknowledge that they are different points of view—they are not lesser, they are not greater; they are just different—and the more that the public of New Zealand, looking at this Chamber, recognise that, the better we will all be. Thank you.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The debate has now concluded. I wish to acquaint members with the process from here on, because we are, to some extent, breaking new ground. We are now going to enter into the voting, but before I do that I want to just read Standing Order 294: “At the conclusion of the debate on the second reading of a bill, the Speaker puts a question that the amendments recommended by the committee by majority be agreed to”. Therefore, I am going to put whatever votes that we now have ahead of us, which may take us past 10 o’clock—that is from Standing Order 294.
So the first vote will be on the amendments that the Government Administration Committee recommended. We will then go to the amendment in the name of Winston Peters, and subsequently follow a process after that. I will call the votes on the voices first. When we get to the amendments, if a personal vote is required—if there is a division—members should indicate. Can I just say to the gallery that you have been well behaved. I would just ask for some decorum while we do this voting. Thank you very much.
- The question was put that the amendments recommended by the Government Administration Committee by majority be agreed to.
|Ardern J||Fenton||Lees-Galloway||Sharples (P)|
|Bennett D||Goldsmith||Mahuta (P)||Tirikatene|
|Cunliffe||Horomia (P)||Robertson G||Wall|
|Brownlee||Lole-Taylor||O’Connor D (P)||Williams|
|Horan||Martin (P)||Peters (P)|
Question agreed to.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER: The next question is that the amendment in the name of the Rt Hon Winston Peters, which is in order, be agreed to. So the question is that a referendum be held at the time of the next general election to decide whether the Marriage Act 1955 should be amended to recognise marriage between two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
|Bakshi||Lole-Taylor||Peters (P)||Tremain (P)|
|Bennett D||Macindoe||Robertson R||Williamson (P)|
|Brownlee||Martin (P)||Roy (P)||Yang|
|Adams (P)||Dunne||Jones (P)||Ryall|
|Ardern J||Dyson||Joyce (P)||Sage|
|Ardern S (P)||English (P)||Kaye||Shanks (P)|
|Auchinvole||Faafoi||Key (P)||Sharples (P)|
|Beaumont||Finlayson (P)||King C||Smith (P)|
|Bennett P (P)||Flavell||Lees-Galloway||Street|
|Blue (P)||Foss (P)||Little||Tirikatene|
|Bridges (P)||Goff||Mackey (P)||Turei|
|Browning||Goodhew||Mahuta (P)||Turia (P)|
|Carter (P)||Guy (P)||McCully (P)||Wagner|
|Clendon||Harawira (P)||Norman (P)||Wall|
|Collins (P)||Heatley||O’Connor D (P)||Wilkinson|
|Cosgrove (P)||Henare||O’Connor S||Woodhouse (P)|
|Dalziel||Horomia (P)||Robertson G|
Amendment not agreed to.
- The result corrected after originally being announced as Ayes 33, Noes 83.
|Adams (P)||Dunne (P)||Hutchison (P)||Sage|
|Ardern J||Dyson||Jones (P)||Sharples (P)|
|Beaumont||Foss (P)||King A||Tirikatene|
|Bennett P (P)||Genter||Lees-Galloway||Tremain (P)|
|Calder||Goldsmith||Mackey (P)||Twyford (P)|
|Carter (P)||Goodhew||Mahuta (P)||Wagner|
|Collins (P)||Hague||Norman (P)||Wilkinson|
|Cosgrove (P)||Harawira (P)||Parata (P)||Williamson (P)|
|Dalziel||Horomia (P)||Robertson G|
|Ardern S (P)||Horan||O’Connor D (P)||Stewart|
|Bakshi||King C||O’Connor S||Tisch (P)|
|Bennett D||Lee||O’Rourke||Tolley (P)|
|Bridges (P)||Lotu-Iiga||Prosser||Woodhouse (P)|
|Coleman||Martin (P)||Roy (P)||Young (P)|
|Finlayson (P)||McCully (P)||Sabin|
|Guy (P)||McKelvie||Shanks (P)|
Bill read a second time.