Yesterday I emailed Louisa Wall, the MP who is best known for her stance on marriage equality, asking her if she would like to write a guest post. Louisa and I are on different sides of the political spectrum on many issues, but on the same side of this one. I am grateful that Louisa has the ability to look beyond our differences and agreed to provide a guest post.
I am happy to publish guest posts on from any politician from any political party, and will print their post in its entirety. I may comment if I disagree, but the original post will not be edited in any form.
Readers should feel free to comment as usual, though please remember that courtesy should be extended to guests. Reasoned, sensible arguments from any side of the debate on marriage equality are welcome. Inane abuse is not.
President Barack Obama’s support for same-sex marriage will hopefully inject momentum into the issue here. As Chair of Rainbow Labour Caucus I have been working on a Member’s bill amending the Marriage Act that I hope will be endorsed by Rainbow Labour and our Labour Caucus and placed in the ballot.
Our current Marriage Act does not define marriage as a union between one man and one woman and that is a distinction that we have from other countries like Australia and the United States. The Quilter majority decision of the Court of Appeal in the 1990s essentially passed the issue of same sex marriage back to Parliament because the Court believed the 1955 Marriage Act contemplated marriage in the traditional sense and any change that society wished to make should be done by legislation. The Court acknowledged the Act was discriminatory but justified it by virtue of the time that the Act was passed. Justice Thomas however expressed a minority view that the 1955 Act was discriminatory and could not be justified under the NZ Bill of Rights Act. However he accepted that the Bill of Rights Act could not strike down the discriminatory nature of the Marriage Act – in law they have the same status.
Our response in Aotearoa was the Civil Union Act 2004 which established civil unions for same-sex and opposite sex couples. I believe the experience of civil unions has resulted in what I see as a greater acceptance of same-sex marriage today. Civil unions are a validly accepted institution amongst most people and one used by heterosexual couples as well. Essentially same-sex marriage along with same-sex adoption remain the issues that need to be addressed before we can say there is substantive equality in Aotearoa for the rainbow community.
Marriage for some same-sex couples is the preferred way for them to commit themselves to another person. For others, both same-sex and opposite sex, their commitment is best expressed by a civil union. Currently opposite sex couples can exercise either option but same-sex couples can only avail themselves of a civil union. That is discriminatory and breaches the basic human rights of a group of people based on their sexual orientation.
What I admire about President Obama’s public position is his ability to acknowledge that at a personal level, given his religious beliefs, it is not something that sits too comfortably with him but, at a moral level, and bearing in mind a commitment to equality and embodied in the constitution of the USA he cannot oppose same-sex marriage. I believe we all need to consider this matter in terms of equality and not our personal beliefs. In doing that no rational person could in my view oppose all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, having the same legal rights and ability to choose for themselves how they express their commitment and love for another person.