A BILL making it legal for gay couples to marry has passed its first reading in the New Zealand Parliament.
Two-thirds of MPs voted in favour of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill – meaning 80 backed the bill and 40 opposed it.
Labour MP Louisa Wall, the sponsor of the bill, said she was proud to have brought the issue to Parliament.
It seeks to define marriage between two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation of gender identity.
If the bill passed, it would not oblige a minister or celebrant to conduct the ceremony.
“That is the situation now, and nothing will change. And because we have freedom of religion in New Zealand no religious body is bound to marry a couple if that marriage is at odds with their religion’s belief,” APNZ reported her as saying.
“The bill has attracted passionate reactions from a number of quarters and the result of that passion had 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 and I want to highlight that this is an important aspect of the modern democratic society,’ she said.
There has been opposition to the bill, with a petition signed by 50,000 people being delivered to Parliament this week.
Labour’s Su’a William Sio was the first MP to raise opposition in Parliament, on behalf of his constituents in Mangere.
“It is an electorate that is close to my heart, they put me here by giving me their confidence – I am privileged with the stewardship that I have been given by the community.”
“This is a matter that is very sensitive for members of my constituency – within the Pacific and faith community even within my own family,” he said.
“Many in the community want Parliament to focus on the more weighty matters of putting food on the table and paying the bills.”
He said he advocated on the issues that his electorate saw as important.
“They expect me to represent their voice without fear, even if it risked standing alone or being called names that hurt and upset families,” he said.
“I appreciate that I represent a different point of view – one that is contrary to the majority view off this house,” he said.
“I stand in opposition to this bill with a total commitment to defend your right to disagree with me.”
National’s Nikki Kaye congratulated Louisa Wall for her bill.
“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,” she said.
Green MP Kevin Hague said as the law stands today, it marginalised young gay people and made them feel inferior.
Speaker Lockwood Smith had to remind those viewing in the public gallery that they couldn’t applaud or join in during speeches.
Leader of New Zealand First Winston Peters said his party wanted to put the issue to a public referendum.
“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.”
National’s Hunua MP Paul Hutchison said he changed his mind on the bill, having previously publically stated his opposition
“I cannot construct a strong enough intellectual, moral, health or even spiritual argument against it.”
He said all Kiwis should have the right to a civil marriage, and was deeply concerned that gay young people had a suicide rate five to eight times that of hetrosexual adolescents.