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Carter: 3rd Reading Speech – Civil Union Bill

10 December 2004


Chris Carter: 3rd Reading Speech – Civil Union Bill

Delivered: Parliament, Wellington

Mr Speaker,

I rise to support the Civil Union Bill, and I do so with a tremendous sense of joy, optimism and an understanding that today we are making history.

I am confident this Bill will pass the vote that follows my speech.

Tomorrow, all New Zealanders will wake up in a country, which has enhanced its reputation as a society that respects human rights and cares about all its people.

Tomorrow, Mr Speaker, all New Zealanders will wake up with a new freedom, and we will not have taken anything from anyone.

For the first time, every citizen of this nation will be able to formalise his or her long-term relationship with the state.

For the majority, they will have a choice between a marriage and a civil union. For the nation's same sex couples, we will have an opportunity we have always been denied.

For my partner and I, the ability to register our relationship will come 31 years after we first met.

I have attended many weddings in my life. I have stood beside dear friends as they marry, and I look forward to the chance to extend a similar invitation to commemorate my partnership.

In the months and years following today, I anticipate that tens of thousands of loving, stable couples both homosexual and heterosexual will participate in civil union ceremonies all over New Zealand.

In doing so, they will celebrate with their friends and their families, gay and straight, everything that makes us human, in the same way that other couples do when they get married.

I would like to take this opportunity to say congratulations to those who will take up a civil union because the more couples that are encouraged into loving, committed, long-term relationships the stronger our society and our families will be.

Sadly, in other people's happiness, some see disaster, or worst still a chance to display their own innate prejudice.

This Bill appears to have stirred some churches and MPs more markedly than entrenched social problems such as poverty, child abuse, youth suicide or the trafficking of drugs, ever have.

When did an MP ever fast to ask God to ensure the poorest of our children had food in their mouths or were free from the scourge of child abuse? Never, but we have one here today fasting to stop the Civil Union Bill, a piece of legislation with out any victims. Talk about a distorted sense of social justice.

I don't understand these priorities but I, like all gay and lesbian people everywhere, am painfully aware that for some people prejudice about homosexuality still runs deep.

A famous author and clergyman once said: "Bigotry dwarfs the soul by shutting out the truth".

And the truth is gays and lesbians are flesh and blood. We have always been part of New Zealand society. Indeed all cultures throughout history have recorded the presence of gay and lesbian people.

We are mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and friends. We are ordinary and flawed. We have emotions, likes and dislikes. We are nurses, lawyers, policemen, artists, singers, farmers and occasionally, politicians. We are obvious and also invisible. We are people, and we deserve to be treated like other people.

A gay doctor saves a life just like a straight one. A gay soldier dies for his country just like a straight one, and a gay person falls in love just like a straight one.

Last month, I received an email from a gay officer in the Armed Forces. I thought I would quote a section from it:

"I am not a political man, I am one of your warriors. I believe in common sense, guided by a sense of duty, and polished with sound judgement. The many emotions surrounding the Civil Union Bill, homosexuality and sexuality in general are all valid, but they are not based on these factors. I would ask you to put aside those emotions for this vote and consider the real people that will be affected by this bill. I am an ordinary, considerate and sensible New Zealander. I am not a family-breaker, I am not 'abominable', and when I attested for service – I did so on the Bible."

This Bill recognises the essential decency of this young officer, and many others like him, Mr Speaker. But it also recognises something even more important.

It recognises that New Zealand has a proud legal history of tolerance. That has made us a great nation, and if we are to grow greater still we must continue this tradition.

Do we as a society judge a person for what they are, or do we as a society judge a person for who they are?

Do we ignore the quality of a person's actions, their contribution, their compassion, and look first at their sexuality, the colour of their skin, their gender?

Is that what we should teach our children?

We don't, Mr Speaker. But unfortunately for a long time now the law surrounding relationships has done just that.

It is time it was changed. Our society has reached that point. Polls show majority support for this Bill, which comes as no surprise to me.

I am an openly gay Cabinet Minister, I travel the length and breadth of this country, and people greet me warmly, knowing who I am. That is the New Zealand way, that is what our people do, and the law belongs to the people.

In passing this Bill, we as a Parliament will not erode society's morals. Instead, we will underscore once again a clear and fundamental moral standard: fairness and equality above all things.

That was demonstrated when our Parliament became the first in the world to give women the vote, that was demonstrated when our Parliament abolished the Poll Tax on the Chinese community, that was demonstrated when our Parliament passed the Homosexual Law Reform Bill, and the Human Rights Act, and we will demonstrate it again today.

The New Zealand of 2004 is an increasingly multicultural and multiethnic country. Diversity in race, religion, custom and practise is widespread and increasing. The Civil Union Bill is a positive statement about recognising and accommodating this diversity. Tolerance is essential in shaping relationships in a multicultural and multiethnic society.

All New Zealanders need to stand on the same level legal ground, no matter who we are. Take away that legal ground and we are all vulnerable, no matter who we are.

Mr Speaker, this Bill corrects an injustice and an inequality. For that reason we and future generations all owe a debt of thanks to its architect, David Benson-Pope, and its shepherds, Tim Barnett and Russell Fairbrother. I would also like to personally extend my thanks to some courageous MPs who have made difficult decisions to support this Bill.

My friends, I hope you get the rewards you so richly deserve.

There is one more thing I want to say.

Gay people in New Zealand were hidden for a long time. Since 1986, we have been more visible, and are becoming more so every day, but our families have not. It is time we bought them into the open because I believe much of the residual public discomfort with homosexual families lies not with a fault in the hearts of people, but with the simple fact that people fear and misunderstand what they don't know.

There is nothing so sanitising as sunlight. The Civil Union Bill will bring sunlight to many families. It is time we let the public see in. It is time others saw the love that is shared, and understood that gay and straight people are more the same, than we are different.

Passage of this Bill will make New Zealand the first country in the Southern Hemisphere to formalise legal recognition of same sex relationships. We join countries like Britain, Canada, Sweden, and France, modern liberal countries that value and respect human rights.

Passage of this Bill will make me even more proud to be a Kiwi.

Mr Speaker, I commend this Bill to the House and urge all members to support it.


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