Gay community debate marriage equality

By Anna Ferrick

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The hotly-debated Marriage Equality Bill is expected to pass into law tonight, but views conflict across the gay and lesbian community as to how much difference the bill will make.

Sarah van der Kley, 28, who came out on her Classic Hits morning radio show, said the bill is an important step towards equal rights.

"People say 'oh but you have civil unions', civil unions aren't the same. It's like saying we can ride on the bus but we have to sit on the floor."

Ms van der Kley and her partner Tracey Gordon, 36, had a civil union last year but would have waited to get married had they known the bill would come up so quickly.

She said what many people do not know is that civil union couples have no extra rights when adopting children, but married couples do.

Ms van der Kley said the emergence of the bill had resulted in polarisation from some sectors of society.

"Funnily enough I think society was more accepting before this bill came up.

There seem to have been a lot of people come out of the woodwork who are name calling and saying 'if we allow this then what's next'?"

She said it should be up to individual couples to decide whether marriage is important to them.

"It's just having the right to choose that is important to us."

Jen, 26, and Emma, 27, plan to marry in December this year if the bill passes.

For them, the ability to teach Jen's young daughter that "it's okay to be gay" is their key motivation.

"We just want her to know that we're the same as everybody else," Jen said.

She said while society is generally accepting, a stigma still exists around gay and lesbian couples.

"We can't walk through the supermarket holding hands without people staring."

She said the bill is the first step in removing what remains of the negative stereotype.

"We just want people to know we're normal.

"We don't want to have to say we're different by having different titles."

She said the change has been slow and a long time coming for a country that is usually ahead in progressive social movements.

The couple said their wedding preparations are well underway, and the event will be "very girly".

Director of the Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, 49, said the prospect of being "normal" is of little interest to him.

"I'm interested in what makes us different, not what makes us the same.

"Marriage is buying into a policy of normal."

He said his views may be consistent of his generation.

"I think younger gay people want to be like everyone else, so they might be more interested in it.

"Older gay people might be more likely to roll their eyes."

Mr Lloyd Jenkins has been with his partner, Peter Wells, for 22 years and says there are many successful partnerships, both same sex and opposite sex, that exist without the institution of marriage.

"It's a disastrous institution, it's false hope.

"Most marriages end in divorce these days anyway. Why would we buy in?"

He said being different, in looks, behaviour and thoughts, can often make things harder for gay and lesbian people, but he now values the difference.

Joanne, who did not wish to use her real name, said while she does not "need" to get married herself, she has many friends that feel being allowed to wed is very important.

She said often the question is not why gay marriage, but why marriage at all and believes if it is important to a couple they should be able to marry, regardless of gender.

"For some people it's important for their families, and that's cool, for others it's not.

"Why should it be any different for same sex couples?"

To the people who say being gay isn't "natural" Joanne said: "This is the way we are. You can look at some kids and know that's the way they are, how can people say that isn't natural?"

Merlyn Jarden, who is from Hastings and recently celebrated her 60th wedding anniversary, said she believes in the institution of marriage and doesn't think the bill will detract from what it stands for.

"It won't detract from the people who believe in marriage and live it.

"I don't know whether everybody else is qualified to justify other people's decisions.

"I can understand why some people don't agree with it but I think we're old enough and big enough not to worry about what everyone else is doing."

She said the reason for marriage in the first place was to start a family but that is changing.

"Many people now have children without feeling like they have to get married."

The bill was brought before Parliament by Labour MP Louisa Wall and passed it's first and second readings 80-40 and 77-43 respectively.

It states: "The bill will make it clear that a marriage is a union of two people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation,or gender identity."

Government officials had originally considered removing the gender specific "bride" and "bridegroom" from marriage certificates in favour of more gender neutral terminology, however Internal Affairs spokesman Michael Mead says the department now intends to provide several options should the bill be passed into law.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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