27 Jul 2012

Same-sex marriage bill delights gay community

4:30 pm on 27 July 2012

One of the first couples to have a civil union in New Zealand says the gay marriage debate in Parliament should stop gay people from being treated as second-class citizens.

The Marriage Amendment Bill in the name of Labour MP Louisa Wall was drawn from the members' ballot in Parliament on Thursday. Its aim is to make it clear that marriage is a union of two people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

John Jolliff says his civil union with Des Smith in 2005 gave their partnership legal recognition but it could not be confused with marriage, which should be an available option.

Mr Jolliff says members of the gay community should be treated like any other citizens.

Jenny Rowan and Jools Joslin were one of three same-sex couples in long-term relationships who went to court for the right to marry.

The Court of Appeal ruled against them in 1998 but Ms Rowan - who has been the mayor of Kapiti Coast since 2007 - says the public is now much more tolerant and understanding, and is likely to be much more supportive of a bill supporting same-sex marriage.

However, she says if Ms Wall's bill is not passed into law it will probably be another decade before the issue can be brought back to the table.

Lobbying expected to be intense

The fate of the bill will be decided by a conscience vote in Parliament and intense lobbying is expected in the leadup to its first reading.

Prime Minister John Key says he will support the bill at that stage but is not sure if it will get much further than that, as he believes this Parliament is quite conservative.

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia, who voted against the civil nnion legislation in 2007, says she may support the bill.

Other governments have made moves to support same-sex marriage. In May, Barack Obama became the first United States president to openly endorse it; and the Scottish government announced this week that it will introduce a bill to legalise gay marriage.

Churches have nothing to fear - Wall

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church, Merv Duffy, says there is not enough thought behind the trend.

Father Duffy says civil unions already provide property rights for couples who are not married, while marriage sets the foundation for families, which should involve a mother and a father.

Ms Wall says however that churches have nothing to fear from her bill, which won't force any changes to the way they administer marriage.

She says the bill is about allowing fairness and choice, and it preserves the right of religious leaders to decide who can marry in their church.