A couple's ability to be joined in marriage is not yet extended to those in same-sex relationships. Catherine Masters looks at why there is opposition and the argument that debunks it

Monique and Mahara take turns to cuddle six-month-old Jamie: mum, mum and baby, plus Jazz the dog, make a modern family.

Though, as the same-sex marriage debate continues, some would vehemently disagree this nuclear unit living quietly in suburban Auckland is a proper family.

Monique and Mahara have been together eight years, wear rings demonstrating their commitment and say they are engaged, though they never followed through on a Civil Union.


They are glad they didn't now because if Labour MP Louisa Wall's bill to legalise same-sex marriage passes, they would rather get married.

Marriage itself is not the drawcard, the women say, but they would like the right to get married because this would mean they were being treated the same as everyone else.

The issue for them is equality of human rights.

The mood toward same-sex marriage has softened since the law for Civil Unions was passed in 2004. Some of those who were against Civil Unions are now supportive of same-sex marriage and supporters of Wall's bill now include Prime Minister John Key. Around the world a handful of other countries, along with six states in America, have already legalised same sex marriage.

Monique and Mahara say the sky is yet to fall in. But there are passionate opponents, and among those who object in this country is Family First's Bob McCoskrie who sums up the argument for many who are opposed. He says a family consists of a mother and a father and that marriage encourages the rearing of children by the mother and father who conceived them.

Given that all sorts of people already cannot marry, McCoskrie's argument goes that if same-sex marriage was legalised then what next?

"A 5-year old boy cannot marry," he wrote in an opinion piece for the Herald. "Three people cannot get married to each other. A married man can't marry another person. Two old aunties living together cannot marry. A father cannot marry his adult daughter. A football team cannot enact group marriage - the list is endless. It is disingenuous to complain about rights being taken away, when they never existed in the first place."

As of yesterday, more than 40,000 people had signed Family First's online petition at its protect marriage website.

The Catholic Church in New Zealand fired up its opposition, too, with a letter from its bishops aimed at Generation Y which used the words of Jesus to argue marriage should not be redefined: "From the beginning of creation 'God made them male and female'. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Marriage is not merely a human construction, the bishops wrote, it is the legal recognition of something natural.

Anglican, Methodist and Presbyterian clergy hit back at the Catholics, saying marriage had been expressed in many different forms over the centuries.

"In the Bible marriage was often polygamous, often did not presume sexual fidelity from the male, usually assumed male dominance and usually was about property, inheritance and kinship. To suggest, as you do, that marriage based on Biblical precepts is frozen in stone and cannot develop or change is to ignore reality."

They also challenged the bishops on what was natural. "You seem to be overlooking that homosexuality is present in many species and not just when there is overpopulation. You seem to be overlooking that sexual orientation for the vast majority of people is not a choice."

Soon after, a conservative group from within the Presbyterian Church, however, released yet another statement which said same-sex marriage was "spiritually offensive" to many Christian people.

"All this comes from this belief ... that you choose to be gay"

Monique, 40, and Mahara, 36, say they have never been so happy - but they spent years trying to "cure" themselves of being gay.

"I didn't want to be gay, never," says Mahara, "I tried all different things."

The Herald has agreed to not use their surnames because they don't want to be tracked down and abused.

That's happened before; once they were called spawn of Satan and accused of being part of a Satanic agenda for homosexuals to take over the world.

The women are both from religious backgrounds and both still believe in God but they don't believe God will judge them for being gay.

Looking back, they realise they always knew they were gay but for a long time were scared to admit it even to themselves.

When they finally told their families they were in their twenties and both families were "fantastic". Monique remembers her dad hugging her and saying he was glad she had found herself and Mahara remembers her Mormon grandmother who raised her saying she loved her unconditionally, that she was who she was and that God created all sorts of people.

No one told them to fix themselves.

Says Monique: "I think all this [opposition] comes from this belief that people have that you choose to be gay and I think if people could understand it's just the way you're born, just the way you are, they wouldn't have so much objection to it because they'd realise you just want to live your life like everyone else and you shouldn't be excluded."

The women are not put off by the divorce rate among heterosexual marriages - a third of all marriages end in divorce in New Zealand - or the fact the popularity of marriage among heterosexuals is on the decline.

Last year saw the lowest number of marriages since 2001 and Statistics New Zealand puts this down to factors including the growth of de facto unions, a general trend toward delayed marriage and more people remaining single.

Of course, not all in the gay community want to get married or even agree with same-sex marriage being legalised. A recent debate across the Tasman demonstrated this when feminist lesbian Professor Annamarie Jagose, formerly of Auckland University, argued strongly against legalising same-sex marriage - while conservative party pollster and political strategist Mark Textor argued strongly for it.

Professor Jagose's argument included that marriage raised the worth of some relationships above others and she also raised the number of marriages which ended in divorce.

Monique and Mahara say they'd still like the option. The divorce rate would be exactly the same, says Monique. Some same-sex marriages would last and some wouldn't. She also points out that "straight marriage" is not always the greatest advert - Britney Spears was married only two days, Elizabeth Taylor was married eight times.

And look at New Zealand's terrible child abuse statistics, says Monique. Something is not working. Whatever happens with the law, Jamie, she says, will 100 per cent grow up happy and well-adjusted.

He has been watching the DVD My Baby Can Read from his bouncer in the lounge, which is scattered with baby equipment and has a bookcase still covered in the dozens of congratulations cards the women received when the little boy was born.

They think his birth cemented them as a family in people's minds and have had loads of support.

Monique gave birth to him and explains his conception came about via a male donor who the child has met, and will again, but who won't be in his life as a father.

The women believe it is important he knows where he comes from but the other parent in the little boy's life is rugby nut Mahara who can't wait to take him to rugby practice and would love it if he became an All Black, though if he prefers ballet, that's fine too.

They went through a lot to get him. They had planned and made sure they owned their own house before having a child, and saved up to make sure they could provide one with the best opportunities in life.

Then Monique, who has a history of endometriosis, found conceiving difficult but says she was lucky because she qualified for state-funded IVF.

The women had no idea a gay couple would qualify. It's ironic, they say, that they can legally make a baby at the clinic and be supported with IVF treatment to do so, but they can't get married.

For them, the legalisation of marriage would also give them the ability to adopt a brother or sister for Jamie as a gay couple if Monique could not have another child.

One of the big injustices to them is that the way the law is now, one of them could adopt, as a single gay person, but they cannot adopt as a gay couple.

This is offensive "because what they're saying is, you know, they must see two gay parents as so harmful to a child that they're saying it's better to be raised by a single person," says Monique.

As a teacher, she knows that families come in all shapes and sizes. In any classroom in New Zealand she says you will find some children raised by their mum and dad, some by just a mum or just a dad, some by aunties or grandparents or the wider whanau.

Next month they will take Jamie to be baptised at St Matthew-in-the-City, the same church they would marry in if the law is amended.

The Anglican church's vicar is Glynn Cardy, one of the signatories of the letter urging the Catholic bishops to reconsider and "respect the dignity, freedom and committed love of same-sex couples to get married".

Reverend Cardy told the Weekend Herald he already performs civil unions and would be happy to perform same-sex marriages.

No one would come to harm, including children, he said.

Every family can have dysfunction but "my guess is if you have a parent who is unconditionally for you and advocates for you and is providing you that security and love, then that is huge. I would guess that is the thing that gives you stability in life as a young child".

Some of the opponents fall back on the argument that marriage is about producing children but Cardy says the Anglican Church long ago moved away from that as the primary reason for marriage.

"Marriage is for the couple and we would want to focus on things like a long-term commitment, a love that seeks the best of the other, so a sort of selfless love if you like, and mutuality between the couple.

"Now, you know, the heterosexual community do not have a monopoly on mutuality, commitment and love. If we're going to be true to what we think is the heart of this sacrament and marriage then I think we have no option but to open the doors to people of the same gender."

The Bible was written over centuries and across different cultures and reflects all sorts of different marriages, he says, pointing out that Abraham married his half-sister: "The main thing you don't have in the Bible is two people unconditionally loving each other in a mutual relationship."

Cardy thinks society has come a long way regarding gay rights, saying you hardly ever hear anyone saying these days that being gay is a lifestyle choice. "And that kind of changes the goalpost. You know, someone will say 'hold on, yeah, maybe it is a bit like left-handed, right-handed, maybe it is like other givens that we grow up with and so, hey, what are we doing excluding these people?"'

Monique and Mahara ask people not to judge what they don't know and say for them it's about love. "God's not going to frown on that," Monique says, and Mahara adds "Yeah, at the end of the day, come Judgment Day I think, you know, God can make that decision."