Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Economic lift for NZ likely if gay marriage allowed - advocate

Boris Dittrich says none of the anticipated negative effects of gay marriage followed its legalisation in the Netherlands 11 years ago.  Photo / Mark Mitchell
Boris Dittrich says none of the anticipated negative effects of gay marriage followed its legalisation in the Netherlands 11 years ago. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Gay marriage could provide an economic boost in New Zealand by generating a spike in wedding ceremonies, says the politician behind the first same-sex marriage legislation in the world.

Former Dutch MP and gay rights advocate Boris Dittrich said one of the unanticipated consequences of legalising marriage for gay, lesbian and transgender couples was a much larger spend created by a rush of weddings - worth US$100 million ($122 million) a year in New York alone.

Mr Dittrich, who is on a speaking tour in Wellington and Auckland, noted that the economics of weddings were an aside to the debate about same-sex marriage. But there was a serious message in this observation.

He said the financial boost was the only surprising consequence of legalising marriage in the Netherlands in 2001, despite warnings of moral, social and family decline from opponents.

"It's a non-issue in the Netherlands now. About 85 to 90 per cent of the population is in favour."

One of the first openly gay MPs in Dutch Parliament, he helped push through same-sex marriage and adoption laws as part of a coalition government.

As New Zealand considers legalising same-sex marriage, Mr Dittrich will speak before a parliamentary select committee on the experience in his country.

The arguments against gay marriage in New Zealand - that it would redefine marriage, undermine the nuclear family, harm children, or force church ministers to marry people - were identical to the debate in the Netherlands in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

He said even in a country with a progressive record on social issues, the law change was bitterly fought in the Netherlands, especially because legalising gay marriage would have been a world first.

"The Prime Minister said the rest of the world will laugh at us because they all know our marijuana, coffee shops, euthanasia, legalisation of prostitution, and now we come with same-sex marriage?

"In the final debate before voting, an orthodox Christian MP said the wrath of God would be upon those who voted in favour. When I was driving home, I thought I should drive very carefully because if I get in an accident they'll think God is punishing me."

Eleven years on, he said none of the warnings of social disintegration had eventuated and many of the political opponents of the law change regarded it with a sense of pride. A conservative Christian Party swore to repeal it, but after entering Parliament have left it untouched.

However, he noted that legalising gay marriage had not been a silver bullet for ridding the country of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.

Anti-homosexual attitudes had prevailed, and the law change had not made a tangible difference to the disproportionately high suicide rate among homosexual teens.

"You cannot just sit back and relax because emancipation is an ongoing process."

Mr Dittrich, who is now an advocacy director at charity Human Rights Watch, is being hosted in New Zealand by Labour and the Greens.

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