Marriage bill passes first reading

By Kate Shuttleworth, Audrey Young

Parliament has tonight passed the first reading of a bill that will make it legal for couples of the same sex to marry.

Eighty MPs voted for the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill and 40 voted against it.

The Speaker had read out the vote as 78 in favour and 40 against. However, shortly after the vote, National whip Louise Upston asked that the ayes be changed to 80 votes because the votes so the proxy votes of Act leader John Banks and United Future leader Peter Dunne, which were mistakenly not cast, could be added to the total.

BILL SPONSOR SEEKS TO ASSURE CHURCHES

Labour Party MP Louisa Wall, the sponsor of the bill, said the calm and measured debate was a sign New Zealand had matured in its views.

"I was hoping for 61 votes, so to get 78 is very special. This is the first hurdle in the transition from this being a bill to an act."

Ms Wall said she thought members of public had moved on from the heated and at times negative debate seen during the civil unions debate and homosexual law reform.

"I think we've evolved; we've matured as we're 26 years post homosexual law reform. So homosexuality in our communities is part of everyday life.

"It was very respectful tonight. I appreciate that is was so respectful.''

"I am really proud of the House; I am proud of belong to a parliamentary term that is going to allow our communities to have a say about the relevance of marriage equality,''

She said the most poignant debate in the house was from National MP Paul Hutchinson.

Mr Hutchinson rang Ms Wall tonight.

"I was finishing my speech - he wanted to engage, he wanted to have a conversation and had some questions and I was able to provide some evidence about those questions. That was enough for him to change his vote.

"That he had invested so much time in trying to get the research and evidence about how relevant this is and that the implications were just means that we can have constructive debate based on facts and based on how this bill will actually effect members of his community.''

"He demonstrates why we have to have an open, transparent process for our New Zealand community to have a say,'' said Ms Wall.

She said she hoped the support base for the bill would grow as it progressed through a select committee.

"The goal would be to build on the support we have now _obviously we have a solid base of support but the select committee process will challenge everybody and then there may be other pieces of information that contribute to the decision making of my colleagues.

"This is just the beginning and adoption could be an issue that comes up at select committee,'' she said.

She said in Parliament she was proud to sponsor the bill which seeks define marriage between two people, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation of gender identity.

She assured Parliament that if her bill became law it would not oblige a minister or celebrant to conduct marriage for gay couples.

"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.''

"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.

Religious opponents have lashed out at the bill - a petition from 50,000 people opposed to marriage equality was delivered to Parliament this week.

Ms Wall said there had been changes in the way the church had approached marriage, including at times the church and state refusing to marry divorcees.

The bill will keep section 29 in place - once a marriage licence is obtained by a couple it does not oblige a minister of celebrant to marry that couple.

"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.''

"Today is the time to open the institution of marriage to all people who are eligible. There is not reasonable ground on which the state should deny any citizen the right to enter the institution of marriage if he or she chooses,'' she said.

OPPOSITION FROM MANGERE MP

Labour MP Su'a William Sio was the first to voice his opposition in Parliament tonight 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.''

He said the Labour Party is diverse and have different points of view on many issues.

"It it Labour Party policy that this particular issue be voted on as a matter of conscience.''

National MP 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 the current law marginalised young gay people and made them feel inferior.

Members in the gallery were reminded by Speaker Lockwood Smith they could not applaud or join in during the speeches in Parliament.

PETERS CALLS FOR REFERENDUM

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party wanted to put the questions of same-sex marriage to a public referendum.

The party had proposed an amendment to Ms Wall that would require a binding referendum on the bill's passage but that was rejected because a poll suggested that 60 per cent of the public favoured gay marriage.

"The only way to test that is by referendum. Such a major legislative change should be based on the collective will of the people, not 121 temporarily empowered Members of Parliament."

The conscience vote that Parliament faced was ''a relic of a bygone age."

The bill would change the institution of marriage.

"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."

HUTCHISON CHANGES HIS MIND

National's Hunua MP Paul Hutchison changed his mind after telling the Herald on Tuesday he would oppose the bill.

He thanked Louisa Wall for speaking to him knowledgably and wisely and he thanked his constituents for their views.

But he said: "I cannot construct a strong enough intellectual, moral, health or even spiritual argument against it."

Dr Hutchison said all New Zealanders should have the right to civil marriage despite race, creed or gender.

He said he was deeply concerned that gay adolescents had a suicide rate five to eight times that of heterosexual adolescents ''in a country that already has an appallingly high suicide rate."

He was told by gay MPs Maryan Street and Kevin Hague that the passage of the bill would make a profound marginalisation that adolescents felt.

"From a health perspective, we should be doing everything possible to create an environment in New Zealand where everyone feels they are included."

- NZ Herald

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