Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Committee approval for gay marriage bill

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

A Parliamentary Select Committee has recommended that a bill to legalise same-sex marriage be passed into law.

The Government Administration Committee said the private member's bill should progress, but with an amendment to make it clear that no minister was obliged to marry someone against their own beliefs.

The committee report said: "The bill seeks to extend the legal right to marry to same-sex couples; it does not seek to interfere with people's religious freedoms."

The Marriage Act would be amended to put beyond doubt that no celebrant recognised by a religious body or nominated by an approved organisation would have to marry a couple if it meant contravening their own, or the organisation's beliefs.

The bill's sponsor, Labour MP Louisa Wall, said the law change was an important milestone towards achieving a fairer, more equal New Zealand.

"Marriage equality is about fairness and choice. This process has showed that that message has really resonated with New Zealanders and has been echoed overseas with the recent passage of similar legislation in the UK."

The report also said that a majority of the select committee agreed that marriage was a human right, and that it was unacceptable for the state to deny this right to same-sex couples.

Some members of the committee felt that marriage was not a right, and should continue to be the sole domain of heterosexual couples.

The committee received 21,533 submissions on the bill, 2898 of which had unique content.

Of the submissions, 10,487 were in favour and 8148 against.

The committee acknowledged that New Zealanders held "sincere and strong beliefs" about the importance of marriage.

"The passion with which submitters made their arguments to us was palpable."

MPs said they were impressed by the participation of young people in the discussion, with heartfelt submissions heard from both side sides of the debate.

"We are heartened that so many of the younger generation, which is so often maligned as uninterested in politics and marriage, chose to involve themselves in this debate."

The bill's second reading will be held on March 13.

The legislation passed its first reading by 80 votes to 40.

National MP Tau Henare and Green Party MP Kevin Hague have voiced their support.

Mr Hague, who sat on the Select Committee, said the process "had been extraordinarily powerful, with strong and sincerely held views being expressed both for and against the Bill".

Family First has accused the Select Committee's report of being based on hearing an insufficient number of oral submissions.

"National and Labour are ramming this Bill through because they know that their core voter support bases are not happy with it and they are desperate to get it off the political agenda," Family First national director Bob McCoskrie said.

"But in the process they are trampling over the rights of New Zealanders to have their chance to speak up and contribute to the debate on this issue."

He said Family First was seeking legal advice on the effects of the proposed amendment.

The Campaign for Marriage Equality says the report "sends a clear message that New Zealand is ready for marriage equality".

"It is a ringing endorsement of love, fairness, family, and for the equal treatment of all Kiwis before the law," campaign spokesman Conrad Reyners said.

- NZ Herald

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