This April, New Zealand will celebrate the 2 year anniversary of the New Zealand House of Representatives voting to legalise same-sex marriage.
These laws don’t just make themselves. They require someone in Parliament to stand up and champion it. In this case, that person was Louisa Wall, the former Silver Fern and Black Fern turned Labour MP for Manurewa.
REDnews asked Louisa what motivated her to champion this bill, how she advocated it to her fellow MPs, and in what other ways New Zealand can be leaders in LGBTI rights.
Being part of a global conversation
“We (Labour) had committed at the 2011 general election to review laws and practices that breached the right to freedom from discrimination, provided under the Bill of Rights Act,” Louisa says.
“So when Barack Obama came out in support of same-sex marriage in May 2012, the opportunity came for my bill to be supported by my Labour caucus colleagues and placed in the members’ ballot. This meant we were able to be part of a global conversation about marriage and its relevance and significance in our lives.
“I believe in the United Nations’ founding principle that we are all born free and equal in dignity and rights. Therefore, as a politician and as Chair of our Labour Rainbow Caucus, I have a significant role in protecting the rights and inclusion of LGBTI people.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the law, the first reading passed easily, 80 votes to 40, largely thanks to Louisa’s passion for educating people on the subject.
“I wrote my MP colleagues a letter, outlining the intent of the legislation and offering to meet with them.
“I asked they support the bill at first reading as this would enable written submissions from New Zealanders about the relevance and significance of Marriage Equality to them, and we received 21,533.”
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The argument for marriage equality
Perhaps another reason it passed so easily was the simplicity of it.
“My Marriage Equality Act was simple: it defined marriage as the union of 2 people ‘regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity’.
“My principal argument was that our state cannot discriminate against any of its citizens in administering their role – which is to issue a license. Where, how, and who is involved in a marriage is private.
“However, in advocating freedom from discrimination it was important to protect freedom of religion. Celebrants are authorised and not obliged to marry a couple – therefore we protected religious and cultural institutions in their practice of their own definition of marriage.
“This was the balance between freedom from discrimination across society perpetrated by the government and freedom of religion, relevant to members of that religion.”
A proud tradition of championing human rights
New Zealand has an impressive history when it comes to leading the world in human rights, and this law saw us become the 15th country in the world, and the first in Oceania, to legalise same-sex marriage.
“The starting point for this bill rests with our role on the international stage. In 1944, when the founding document of the United Nations, the United Nations Charter, was being developed, New Zealand pushed for a stronger focus on human rights. In 1948 we again played an important and effective role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“This isn’t surprising given that we led the world in enabling our indigenous people not only the right to vote but specific Maori representation in 1867, and women to have the right to vote in 1893.
“So, our Marriage Equality laws continue New Zealand’s proud history of advancing fundamental human rights for all human beings.”
A global issue
While many countries are making great progress in this area, Louisa is quick to point out not all the world is following suit.
“At one end of the spectrum there are countries that punish homosexuality with the death penalty, and at the other end there are countries that allow marriage equality. There are 76 countries, 7 of which are in the Pacific, that have yet to decriminalise homosexuality.
“The fight for human rights for all human beings is a constant – at this point in time, it's the rights of our LGBTI community that are a focus.”
Continuing the fight for equality
A year after the law came into effect on 19 August 2013, 926 same-sex marriages had been registered in New Zealand, 520 of which were between women and 406 between men, and made up 3.9% of all marriages.
But while this is a step in the right direction, that doesn’t mean there isn’t any more work to be done.
“For some in our society, especially young LGBTI and specifically our transgender youth, issues of suicide and physical abuse are too high.
“Our intersex community are another area of challenge, and there is a petition before our Parliament urging the Government to take action to address the inadequate supply of publically funded gender reassignment health services.”
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