COVER STORY: NZ Labour legislates to effect 'same-sex marriage'
by Peter Westmore
News Weekly, July 3, 2004
As News Weekly goes to press, the NZ Labour Government has rushed legislation into Parliament which will effectively legislate for gay marriage, through what are called "civil unions".
The bill was tabled in Parliament on June 21, and MPs were expected to vote on it on July 23 or July 24.
The bill creates a new form of legal relationship - a registered civil union - that would apply to same-sex relationships and heterosexual couples.
Running alongside the Civil Union Bill will be the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill that removes discrimination based on marital status. It amends over 1000 provisions across more than 100 laws covering commerce, education, health, taxation and social assistance.
The New Zealand Press Association reported that a civil union would run in parallel to marriage and the same rules would apply, journalists were told in a pre-release briefing.
"The only difference between a civil union and marriage was the name and that same-sex couples could not get married."
The legislation, backed by NZ Prime Minister, Helen Clark and her Labour Government, provides a model which might be followed by Mark Latham in Australia, if elected at the forthcoming poll.
Mr Latham is committed to removing all evidence of discrimination against homosexual couples, but supported the Federal Government's amendment to the Marriage Act in Federal Parliament recently.
A leading non-government think tank in New Zealand, the Maxim Institute, said that "the two Bills will, if passed, effectively provide for same-sex marriage in New Zealand, and at the same time virtually marry every couple. This will make marriage meaningless."
The Maxim Institute said that the Civil Union Bill would create a new legal relationship status, equivalent to marriage in all but name, called a "civil union". This new relationship would be available to both same-sex and heterosexual couples.
The Legal Recognition of Relationships Bill (or Omnibus Bill) will amend around 160 Acts of Parliament, to give the benefits and privileges of marriage to any two people in a sexual relationship, regardless of whether they are registered.
The Institue said, "The debate is really only about one thing: whether the publicly pledged life-long commitment of a man and woman to each other, and their children, provides a unique benefit to society. If so, then the only question remaining is whether it is justified to distinguish between marriage and other relationships."
It pointed out that marriage, in all cultures, has had a privileged status in every society, irrespective of race or religion, because it provides benefits to social order which no other relationship does. Marriage is based on the complementary nature of men and women.
"It is a relationship within which society approves and encourages sexual relations and the birth of children. Through marriage, society holds biological parents responsible for each other and their off-spring.
"These bills will remove from marriage any special status in law - it will be no different legally from a civil union or a de facto relationship. This effectively puts all couples in the same box, ignoring their very real and important differences. It is a radical change in how the law treats marriage, which will be to the detriment of the next generation."
Shortly before the vote, Dr David van Gend observed that "the New Zealand Parliament will do what the Australian Labor Party is considering doing if elected. They will vote on the Civil Union Bill, which, according to the New Zealand Herald (June 19) "allows same-sex and heterosexual couples to 'tie the knot' through a civil union rather than marriage".
"New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, like Labor leader Mark Latham, has been careful not to startle the horses by amending the Marriage Act directly. Yet indirectly she achieves her goal of same-sex equivalence by legislation which, she states, 'will take out any discrimination, so [the Marriage Act] will not have any practical effect'."
Dr van Gend said it would be an act of vandalism to "drag marriage down off the social pedestal it rightfully occupies - since nothing can match the task undertaken by the male and female of the species in conceiving and nurturing the next generation of society."
He added, "The next generation will pay for this vandalism in ways we have hardly considered. For if all adult unions are legally equivalent, then not only must gays have equal adoption rights - which is simply wrong for little children - but they must be free to educate our increasingly confused children that a gay union is morally 'just the same as your Mum and Dad'."
Dr van Gend said Mr Latham must tell us honestly whether his government would introduce same-sex marriage, and therefore gay adoption and gay sex-education, under the guise of Civil Unions.
- Peter Westmore is President of the National Civic Council