New Zealand is close to approving marriage equality, which could make them the 13th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage should they beat France to the vote.
During committee stages last month, the final vote was 77 to 43. Introduced by Labour MP Louisa Wall, the bill will have its third reading in the Parliament on Wednesday.
“[Marriage equality] has intense personal meaning for lesbian women and gay men who want to marry, and our families,” said Kevin Hague of the Green Party of Aotearoa in an interview with 429Magazine. “It unites two people and two families and enables us to take our place in a tradition that spans generations – so emotionally hugely significant at a personal level.”
“Perhaps more importantly, it sends a very strong signal from our parliament that gay men, lesbian women and transgendered people are absolutely full members of our society, with all the same rights and privileges, and that discrimination and prejudice are unacceptable,” Hague continued.
“This emphatic message should help build a more supportive social environment and thus undermine the stigma that sits at the heart of our terrible outcomes in suicide, depression, HIV risk, alcohol and drug issues and violence.”
The campaign to institute marriage equality began in earnest last year. Hague attributed a strong commitment to organizing across traditional party lines and an effective partnership between community activists and members of parliament.
“Traditional ‘liberals’ on the right have formed a really effective alliance with us wet social justice types in a formidable combination,” Hague explained. “We used social media very effectively, and also crucial was the personal support of our Prime Minister, which actually only came about because he had to respond to Barack Obama’s comments last year, so thanks USA!”
Opposition to the legislation came from the Conservative Party and the lobby group Family First.
“The definition of marriage should stay as traditionally and commonly conceived – not one manipulated by politics and political correctness,” Family First Spokesman Bob McCoskrie said in a press release urging people to sign a “marriage pledge.”
“The core opposition has really been from quite a small segment of society,” said Hague, undeterred by anti-equality protesters. “Almost exclusively church-based, who believe their particular religious faith should determine the law for everyone, regardless of whether others share their faith. It’s an old-fashioned view and misses the whole point about separation of church and state, which is as important here as it is in the States.”
According to the Herald DigiPoll, 48 percent of New Zealand citizens support traditional marriage between a man and a woman. The poll increased 7.5 percent from a previous census last June.
Hague explained that Family First and related organizations campaign by raising fears of “imaginary risks.”
“They say this will be the slippery slope to polygamy or people marrying pets, they say church ministers will be thrown in prison for refusing to marry same-sex couples,” Hague said.
“They have bizarre claims about what teachers will and won’t be allowed to say to students, they say married straight couples won’t be allowed to call each other husband and wife any longer, etc. As we know, none of these will eventuate when the law is passed.”
If approved, New Zealand could be celebrating its first same-sex weddings by mid-August of this year.
The proposed bill will amend the 1955 Marriage Act and will make New Zealand the first Asian-Pacific country to legalize marriage equality. The country legalized civil unions in 2005 and decriminalized homosexuality in 1985.
“Gay couples will marry. Nobody else will be affected. The world will be a happier place,” concluded Hague.