Lee Suckling 's Opinion

Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Lee Suckling: Reflecting on a year of marriage equality

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Paul McCarthy (left) and Trent Kandler were married after winning a competition by Tourism NZ.
Paul McCarthy (left) and Trent Kandler were married after winning a competition by Tourism NZ.

It's been a year since the now-famous celebratory waiata was sung in New Zealand's Parliament.

"The ayes are 77. The noes are 44," announced the assistant speaker of the house, decreeing New Zealand's Marriage Act amended and same-sex couples legally allowed to marry.

"Unlock the doors" had barely been shouted before MPs and onlookers belted out Pokarekare ana nga wai o Rotorua: a version of the traditional Maori love song.

Uploaded to YouTube within minutes, the waiata spread virally across the planet as the world congratulated our step forward in human rights. And, after a year of debate, marriage equality critics were finally silenced. Their arguments, although considered, hadn't been strong enough. New Zealand favoured love over hate; diversity over exclusivity.

Such critics are still out there (e.g. two elderly men stand daily outside Parliament with "Repeal gay marriage law" sandwich boards), and always will be.

However, one year on, it's time to celebrate all that marriage equality has given society. Importantly, it's also time to reflect on what it hasn't given us.

Gay marriage and equal rights
A common disparagement pre-legislation was sceptics exclaiming their disdain for "gay people demanding special rights". To this, same-sex marriage advocates have often replied, "They're not special rights if they're already afforded to the majority". All humans are as deserving of rights as each other; not some more than others. So in gaining marriage equality, we closed one of the final loops in human rights disparities in New Zealand. Talk about stealing the title "Land of the Free".

Gay marriage and babies
Unfortunately, marriage equality has not given gay couples the biological ability to procreate. God knows we do keep trying, though. Married gay couples can, nevertheless, now legally adopt children. A dream come true for clucky gay New Zealanders. Unfortunately, according to Child, Youth & Family, the across-the-board pool of potential adoptees is minuscule (for all Kiwis, regardless of orientation), thus marriage equality hasn't dramatically increased same-sex parenting opportunities.

Gay marriage and international recognition
Since New Zealand confirmed marriage equality as law in April 2013, Kiwi same-sex marriages have been considered legal not only at home, but also abroad. From South Africa to Spain, Canada to (most recently) the UK, all marriages conducted in New Zealand are fully recognised in 16 countries, plus parts of the USA and Mexico. This means easier visas, equal legal and medical rights, and (while still complicated) opens up Green Card eligibility for gay people marrying Americans. Of course, most countries still don't recognise same-sex marriages, including Australia. Which now looks as out of place in the West as Mel Gibson at a United Nations roundtable.

Gay marriage and tourism
Believe it or not, New Zealand has become a tourism destination for same-sex weddings (especially for our friends across the ditch). This has been helped along with the efforts of Tourism New Zealand, which supported marriage equality with a campaign to entice Australians to legally wed in New Zealand. Though not yet to the tune of $260 million (as was injected into New York via tourism after gay marriage introduction), New Zealand will continue to see a foreign currency influx for the sole reason of tying the same-sex knot.

Gay marriage and other marriages
Marriage break-ups have been on the decline in New Zealand since 1998, and it's assumed the 2013-2014 year will yield the same trend. That means gay marriages aren't affecting straight marriages, as some predicted. Provisional data from Statistics New Zealand reveals 355 same-sex marriage took place in the last half of 2013. If these caused 355 straight divorces (no data has yet been released), it's probably only owing to the post-legalisation wave of gay pride that promoted acceptance. Such could have encouraged 355 closeted gay people to end faux-relationships of convenience, and embark on new lives in a wholly equal society. Yay for Team Gay!

Gay marriage and religion
Legal same-sex marriage has given gay people the freedom to marry whomever they want, but unfortunately, not wherever they want. While a few liberal churches have welcomed same-sex nuptials, the majority of religions in New Zealand continue not support marriage equality, and forbid any corresponding ceremonies. To put a positive spin on this, there'd be little joy in having a marriage officiated by someone against his or her will. After all, you can't get blood out of a (cathedral) stone.

Gay marriage and the apocalypse
Rejoice! Marriage equality has not brought acid rain down upon us! Nor has it opened the gates of hell, caused seismic shifts killing millions, sped up global warming, or spread skin cancer to us all. In fact, since same-sex marriage was legalised, there've been no fatal New Zealand earthquakes, the ozone layer has begun to close, and the only gates of hell now open are those leading to New Zealand's public transportation facilities. As for that "day of reckoning" Colin Craig spoke of? We're all still waiting.

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- www.nzherald.co.nz

Lee Suckling

Life and Style columnist for the NZ Herald

Writer Lee Suckling pens his opinionated thoughts every Wednesday, covering issues surrounding Generation Y, New Zealand's gay community, and the ethical dilemmas presented every day to those living in a tech-centric modern world. Outside of the New Zealand Herald, Lee writes for a range of magazines and newspapers across New Zealand, Australia, and the UK.

Read more by Lee Suckling

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