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Big News: 2 Partners 2 Bills -Too Much Speculation

BIG NEWS with Dave Crampton

Two Partners, Two Bills, Too Much Speculation

Now that the Relationships (Statutory References) and Civil Union bills are out, people can stop speculating: They can stop saying that the bills will make marriage irrelevant. They can stop saying that the Civil Union Bill is not just about legal recognition, and aimed at putting right legal discrimination, such as hospital visits for gay partners and funeral rights.

They can stop saying that love does not discriminate, neither should the law. (Perhaps 14/15 year-old couples that fall in love should not be discriminated against and should marry - after all their sexual contact was nearly legally sanctioned). They can stop saying that the Civil Union Bill is about avoiding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. People can stop saying that the majority of the opponents of the bills are Christian fundamentalists and that supporters are anti-marriage. They can stop saying that civil unions are extended to heterosexual couples purely to give them legal recognition of their relationship outside marriage.

They can also stop saying that both bills will pass their first vote on Thursday.

Because none of the above is true.

For a start, only the Civil Union bill is to be voted on Thursday, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill is to be voted on next week. This bill will give all couples the same legal rights irregardless of their sexual orientation or marital status.

The Civil Union Bill is about one thing: To allow couples, via the state, to register and socially recognise relationships based on their choice of a same sex partner, so as to avoid a Government amendment to the Marriage Act.

The bill is not about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as some would have you believe. The Quilter v Attorney General Court of Appeal Case in 1998 (which is the catalyst for these two bills) held that marriage is between a man and a woman. This case, a hearing brought by three lesbian couples, was not thrown out because of the three couples' sexual orientation, it was thrown out because their choice of partner was not in accordance with the Marriage Act 1955. It is Parliament's job to change the Marriage Act. That's not going to happen in the short term. That is because Parliament has decided that although individuals are treated equally before the law, couples are not.

Yet the background section to the Civil Unions bill discusses Quilter and then says, "Prohibited grounds of discrimination include sexual orientation," as if there was a link to Quilter. This is dishonest, as there is no link. This section paints a picture of being about reducing discrimination, by quoting a case that was not about discrimination. Labour MP Chris Carter is one of many who paints Civil Unions as a bill that is aimed to remove discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Carter is reported as saying of Civil Unions, "It's been in our policy since 1999 and, in fact, in our pledge card when we join the Labour Party we guarantee that we will not discriminate against people on race, religion or sexual orientation."

"So, quite frankly, I find it difficult to understand how any Labour member couldn't support that."

I guess that’s why they can support the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill as that is the bill aimed at evening out unfair discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation. No relationship law discriminates on the basis of race or religion.

If couples were treated equally before the law, we would be looking at a Marriage Reform Bill. A Civil Union Bill, if passed, will be a new law designed to treat unmarried couples differently to married couples. There is only one reason it is extended to heterosexual couples: To not do so would breach Human Rights legislation as it would be discrimination based on sexual orientation. Heterosexual couples can marry.

If the bill passes unaltered, all heterosexual couples, be they civil union or married, will be able to convert their relationship to marriage or civil union respectively with no waiting period, as for remarriage. Heterosexuals who convert their marriage into civil unions (and back to marriage, if desired) will still consider themselves married. Homosexuals will be "nearly married" as they will be unable to convert their relationship into marriage. If a heterosexual couple marries and spends five of these years in a civil union, they will still be celebrating a silver wedding anniversary after 25 years, even if for five of these years they are not legally married. For the first time, wedding vows will have some competition.

Although much of the focus has been the rights of homosexuals to recognise their relationships, it is actually the heterosexuals that will have a backdoor to marriage without expressing commitment, unless the Marriage Act is amended to include same sex couples. To be a party to a civil union does not require a partner to be monogamous, forsaking all others, and have a relationship recognised until "death us do part". Neither does a civil marriage, for that matter, but most have vows with similar wording. Then unlike same sex couples, heterosexual couples could turn their civil union into a marriage the next week if the bill is passed unchanged. Then if they wanted to, back to a civil union. This might not abolish marriage, but some people see this as a threat to the institution of marriage.

Tomorrow, we`ll see what our MP's think.


Dave Crampton is a freelance writer and lives in a long-term relationship in Wellington. He blogs at

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