Last week, I watched the Parliamentary debate around the first reading of the Marriage Amendment Bill sponsored by Labour MP Louisa Wall; squeezed in-between bills to tighten up water discharge under the Resource Management Act and tweaks to minimum wage legislation. Basically, Louisa’s bill involves rewording the current legislation on marriage so that it cannot be specifically used to exclude lesbian and gay couples from obtaining a marriage license. (If you need a primer on same-sex marriage and legislation in New Zealand, it’s here.)
Louisa did a great job of introducing the bill. Essentially, she reminded the house of three things:
- legislation should not enable discrimination
- churches and celebrants can refuse or agree to marry whoever they want, and that won’t change
- marriage has undergone quite a lot of social and legislative redefinition over the years.
In other words, changing the law so that same-sex couples can get married if they want, simply allows a few more people to get married and harms absolutely nobody.
There were a few speeches in response, most supportive, a few not so much. Then the house voted. It was a conscience vote for most parties, which means MPs voted according to their conscience rather than as directed by their party. The only exception was New Zealand First that voted “against” as a party because predictably they wanted a referendum. Again! The final vote was 80 to 40 “yes”. This now means the bill goes through the select committee process and two more readings in the house before it can become law.
Interestingly, at least three MPs who were clearly religious spoke quite openly about the struggles they had gone through to reach a decision. One MP had previously told the media he would vote “against”, but over the subsequent weeks had changed his mind, the result of personal conversations with gay colleagues and people working with queer youth. After much soul searching he realized his conscious would not let him take the easier path and vote as many of his religious peers expected. Changing the marriage law would have zero impact on the church, he argued, but was hugely significant for gay people. This proposed law change has no downside. Another MP, an ordained Presbyterian minister had gone out of his way to talk with young gay and lesbian people. He too was now voting “yes”.
The few speeches made against the bill were all pretty thin, and just another round of “but what about my heterosexual privilege” and/ or “bible says no”. Arguments now so outdated that even most heterosexual people polled see them for what they are, bigotry hiding behind religion and culture. Polls consistently show over 60% support for same-sex marriage, and for people under 35 that jumps to over 80%. Society has moved a long way in the past thirty years, as has the institution of marriage.
A colleague asked me the other week if we planned to upgrade our civil union when the law passes. Personally, I’m not sure. I already feel married and have felt that way for a very long time. But we might, once we are given the choice – just like everyone else. As I explained to my colleague, personally I don’t feel that strongly about getting married, but I do feel strongly about the law telling me I can’t!