Lucky 13: New Zealand votes on Marriage Equality
New Zealand’s Parliament just began debating the third and final reading of a bill that will extend full marriage rights to Gay, Lesbian and Transgender couples. Voting begins in less than two hours, and the results will be known soon afterwards. If the bill passes, New Zealand will be the 13th country in the world to achieve marriage equality, and the first in the Asia-Pacific region.
The bill passed by a near two-thirds majority on its first reading, and (after public submissions), by a very similar majority on the second. Since then, Parliament has been crafting the final legal language. If it passes tonight as widely accepted, it will go to Governor-General for his signature as the Queen’s representative before becoming law. (This is merely a formality, as the Royal power of veto hasn’t been exercised since the 1700s). Couples could then begin marrying as early as August.
In simple terms, the bill will remove the definition of marriage as being between a man and woman in New Zealand law, and make it a union of two people regardless of sex. In addition to allowing Gay and Lesbian people to marry, it removes the absurd situation where a married person who changed sex had to get divorced, regardless of whether they or or their spouse wanted to or not. It will also allow Gay and Lesbian people to adopt children as a couple. (At present either party can adopt a child as an induvidual, but not together).
For me there have been two striking features of this debate. The first is the support for marriage equality from accross the political spectrum. It has been backed by Conservatives and Liberals, Conservationists and Libertarians. The (Conservative) Prime Minister has backed it, as has the Leader of the Opposition. A party founded of pragmatism and family values has backed it, and so has a party representing New Zealand’s indigenous people. The youth wings of all parties back it, and so does a majority of the general public.
The second has been the respect and civility shown on both sides. Opponents have focused on the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, and its central role in procreation, rather than on moral disapproval or hostility towards Gay people. Supporters have emphasised their respect for religious belief and induvidual conscience. Provisions are in place in the bill to ensure no religious organisation will be forced to perform or host weddings that are counter to its values.
Whatever happens tonight (and I for one hope we will indeed be lucky 13), I’m proud to live in a country that proudly upholds the values of civility, tolerance, and positive social change through the democratic process.