Gay rights supporters travelled to Wairarapa by the carload for a fierce public debate on the marriage amendment bill in Masterton.
More than 100 people packed the Frank Cody Lounge in Masterton for the standing-room-only debate on Tuesday between the bill's author Labour MP Louisa Wall and Green Party MP Kevin Hague and their opponents Conservative Party leader Colin Craig and Masterton Baptist Pastor Scott Lelievre.
The forum centred on the motion 'That the Marriage Amendment Bill is in the best interests of our country, and deserves the support of our Parliament'.
Postings to Facebook were made by Labour Party youth members earlier Tuesday offering transport to the debate from Wellington and Palmerston North, as "the Conservative Party is going to stack the meeting".
Supporters of the bill were impassioned and cohesive at the Masterton debate while, in contrast, opponents were scattered and muted.
Debate organiser Kieran McAnulty, Wairarapa Labour Party chairman, told the audience an invitation to the event had been declined by National MP for Wairarapa John Hayes, and said "we are blessed" to have attracted a cadre of high-calibre speakers, nonetheless.
Mr Hayes spoke against the bill during its first reading in Parliament and said his opposition to the bill, which he described as a sideshow, was based on a majority view in Wairarapa.
He afterwards told Wairarapa Times-Age he was shunning the public forum in Masterton because he "was not interested".
"I've got much more important things to do," he said.
Mr Hayes had canvassed several thousand Wairarapa residents regarding same-sex marriage, he earlier said, and believed the bill would lead to polygamy and legalised incest.
The same line was taken by Mr Craig during his 10-minute speech opposing the motion.
Mr Craig said a mandate is lacking among New Zealanders for a change in the definition of marriage, which would spark "negative downstream effects", including polygamy, polyandry and adult incest and the right of same-sex couples to adopt.
He said a referendum should be called about redefining the definition of marriage.
"I believe gender difference is real, role modelling is real and nature itself sets in place a mum and a dad as the ideal relationship," Mr Craig said.
Ms Wall told the forum her proposed bill seeks "to make all citizens and people in New Zealand equal under the law".
She said the bill remains in keeping with a progressive continuum of human rights legislation that began in 1893 when New Zealand women won the right to vote, and carried on through amendments to the Human Rights Commission Act in 1993, which outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and the introduction in 2004 of civil unions. There are about 300 civil unions a year.
Ms Wall said she is happy and proud to sponsor the bill, which if passed into law will put New Zealand in the company of 11 other countries with similar legislation.
Pastor Lelievre said the bill goes against Scripture, which defines homosexuality as a sin, and that the marriage of one man and one woman has been accepted practice through Judeo-Christian history for millennia.
He said the bill, if passed, could lead to the prosecution of marriage celebrants, like himself, who are attached to established churches and refuse to marry same-sex couples.
"There are some areas where government should not intrude, areas that belong to God as the source of moral and spiritual authority.
"This measure being discussed will be harmful to marriage and harmful to couples."
Mr Hague, who has a 22-year-old son, said he was a gay man who has been in a relationship with another man for almost 30 years.
He supported the right to hold religious views, he said, but only if they did not impinge on the rights of others or seek to dictate legislation in a secular state.
Mr Hague, a gay rights activist and former executive director of the New Zealand Aids Foundation, disagreed with Mr Craig that tradition was a sufficient reason to oppose the bill and that "the rights of minorities are not a good subject for referendum".
Harm would not be caused to anybody should he and his partner marry, Mr Hague said, and fears of ensuing law changes were "scare-mongering".
"Anyone who believes this bill allows for anything that isn't already there, would have to bring a bill to Parliament and get it passed. I would be voting against it," he said.
Where to from here?
The Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill passed its first reading in Parliament on August 29 with a 2-to-1 majority.
It is now with the select committee. Submissions on the bill are invited from the public by October 26 via www.parliament.govt.nz. A report is due in February 2013.