When the Marriage Equality Bill passes its final vote in Parliament, possibly tonight, it will signify a marked social change. Less than a decade ago Helen Clark’s Government dared not extend the definition of marriage to same-sex couples, offering them a legal equivalent called civil union. Since then, public opinion has undergone a sea change.
It has happened not only in New Zealand but in Australia, the United States and Europe. Quite suddenly, most people have come around to the view that homosexual commitments deserve equal recognition.
It is a change primarily linked to age. Younger people have grown up with gay and lesbian friends, class-mates and colleagues and see no reason not to allow their friends to marry.
In the US in 2004 opposition to same sex marriage was an electoral winner for the Republicans. In 2012 it was an electoral loser. And a poll in the US had just revealed that a majority of Republicans under 30 favour allowing same sex marriage with 51% in favour and 46% opposed.
The same poll also looks at views based on religion.
- White evangelical Christians: 24% support/73% oppose
- White non-evangelical Protestants: 54% support/43% oppose
- White Catholics: 53% support/43% oppose
- Hispanic Catholics: 54% support/35% oppose
- African-American non-evangelical: 65% support/31% oppose
- Jewish: 78% support/21% oppose
So a majority of (white) American Catholics support same sex marriage.
Thoughtful contributions to our opinion pages have argued that marriage between a man and a woman is too important to social cohesion for its heterosexual definition to be lost. Marriage, they said, is not simply a declaration of love and commitment, it is the legitimation of procreation and the formation of families.
If its definition is to be detached from that purpose and marriage is to mean any form of human bond, what next, they asked. Might a commitment of more than two people have a right to the same recognition? Polygamy is permitted in some cultures. Why restrict the recognition to sexual relationships? One woman who lived with her sister wrote about their enduring non-sexual life together and wondered whether, in the name of equality, they too should be allowed to marry.
Marriage, as a professor of law pointed out on our pages yesterday, has been instituted in every culture, tribe and race since antiquity as the union of a man and a woman. It has never, until now, included a category of relationships that have no reproductive capacity and cannot provide a child with the care of two biological parents.
A fair summary of the better arguments against.
Those who worry that something of value will be lost can probably relax. Laws cannot change the ordinary meaning of words such as marriage, bride, groom, husband, wife, mother and father. Marriages for heterosexuals, including the blessings that believers obtain from churches, will not be diminished.
It remains to be seen whether same-sex couples marry in large numbers but their right to do so will be a significant achievement, another legal statement of equality. The gay community’s fight for the right to marry pays tribute, in its way, to the inherent value of the institution.
I agree. Couple aspiring to marry is a good thing.
The debate will be over tonight, thank goodness. It’s been great to be part of a team working for this change. I respect that some are opposed to the change, but the opposition to civil unions proved misplaced – and I think this will prove the same.
While there has been some passionate views on both sides, I think it reflects well on New Zealand that we can have this debates generally without the nastiness and rancour you see in some countries.
A Herald story also has a useful breakdown by party for the second reading:
* National: 44 per cent of MPs
* Maori: 100 per cent
* United Future: 100 per cent
* Act: 100 per cent
* Labour: 91 per cent
* Green: 100 per cent
* Mana: 100 per cent.
* National: 56 per cent of MPs
* Labour: 9 per cent
* New Zealand First: 100 per cent
* Independent (Brendan Horan): 100 per cent.
From my point of view, it would have been nice to have the majority of National MPs voting in favour. But even if only 10 out of 59 National MPs were in favour, this law change would have occurred.