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Speech: Wall - Marriage Equality Second Reading

MP for Manurewa
13 March 2013 SPEECH

Second Reading Marriage (Definition Of Marriage) Amendment Bill

Kia ora Mr Speaker. Tena koutou katoa. I move that the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill be now read a second time.

Mr Speaker, in this second reading debate I want to focus on value. The value, the regard, the importance or preciousness that every person should feel as a New Zealand citizen.

During the debate on this Bill a number of views have been expressed about a person's value.

I've been moved by the depth of feeling of those affected by the Bill. Those who will be able to choose whether they access a social institution they are currently prohibited from accessing, for no reason other than their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

The feeling of being excluded, of being a second class citizen, of being outside the normal parameters of society proliferate amongst our community - but we are normal and we are entitled to the same rights as every other citizen.

The issue of coming out, of being true to who you are is difficult enough for any person. The discussion around this Bill has emphasised how real the discrimination is. The agony and hardship that so many who bravely made submissions have had to face is unreasonable. But what's totally unacceptable, is the State perpetuating that agony and hardship by not issuing marriage licences to loving, consenting and eligible non-heterosexual couples.

This Bill is about marriage equality. It's not about gay marriage, same sex marriage or straight marriage. It's about marriage between two people. There's no distinction to be made. That is equality. Whether the form of that marriage is religious, secular or cultural is a matter for the couple to determine. Denying marriage to a person is to devalue that person's right to participate fully in all that life offers. It's essentially not recognising someone as a person. No state has the right to do that.

To deny trans-people, intersex, lesbian and gay people the right to marry is to deny them recognition as a person. Opponents to this bill are essentially asserting that non-heterosexuals are not equal people and therefore are not entitled to the same rights as other people.

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said when being sworn in as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town in 1986 -

"a person is a person because he recognises others as persons".

Almost 20 years later in a sermon in London in 2004, Archbishop Tutu expressed his wish to reverse injustice by ending the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation, which he described as every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid. He stated and I quote:

"For me this struggle is a seamless robe. Opposing apartheid was a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination against women is a matter of justice. Opposing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a matter of justice.

It is also a matter of love. Every human being is precious. We are all - all of us - part of God's family. We all must be allowed to love each other with honor. Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God. This must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are."

Archbishop Tutu's logic and reasoning is compelling. It's the same logic and reason that should guide us all in this House when we vote on this issue.

To most people marriage is an institution characterised by positivity. It's about love, commitment and family. No sector of society has the right to claim ownership of marriage and determine that their perception and practice of marriage is the only acceptable way. Marriage belongs to society as a whole. And that requires the involvement of the whole of society. The role of the State in marriage is to issue a licence to two people who love each other and want to commit to one another formally. That's what this Bill does.

To be valued for who we are is the bare minimum we should expect from others. It's the bare minimum we should expect from the State. For me it's what I would expect from a Church but that will be a longer journey and one that each denomination and Church community will determine in their own time.

The State's position is that all human beings are equal citizens and the law protects various aspects of a person's identity including their sex, sexual orientation, age, colour and race. These are fundamental aspects of our identity with which we are born. The Human Rights Act and the Bill of Rights Act extends the protections beyond these innate aspects to matters of status and belief.

I've always been clear that in pursuing marriage equality I will defend the rights of those in the churches to practice their religion on terms that they consider reflect their beliefs. Freedom of religion is an individual right and I support the Select Committee's recommendation to strengthen section 29 of the Act to make it clear there is no compulsion for a Minister to perform a marriage that he or she does not feel comfortable about. Section 29 protects all celebrants.

Attempts by opponents in the last week to limit the protection only to those listed in the amendment is totally misleading. The Select Committee amendment is clear - the specific amendment that refers to organisational celebrants begins with the words "without limiting the generality of subsection (1)". The general protection in section 29 remains in place and applies to all celebrants. To read it any other way is disingenuous.
Exercising freedom of religion means religious groups view marriage as exclusive. That's the reality of freedom of religion and it's my intention to recognise that freedom and therefore allow that discrimination to continue for as long as religious leaders and specific denominations choose.

But in return I would ask that Churches consider the rights of the LGBTI community with love, compassion and reason. My Bill is one step and will allow members of the LGBTI community to participate in the civil and state institution of marriage. Some church leaders have embraced that step and I'm hopeful that time will see a change in the attitude and practices of other Church members.

I do have hope that Churches will move towards an inclusive approach to marriage. Last October the General Assembly of the New Zealand Presbyterian Church passed a motion opposing this Bill but an attempt to pass a motion that their ministers could only conduct a marriage between a man and a woman was lost. That's a positive step and will allow ministers like Reverend Dr Margaret Mayman from St Andrews on the Terrace who submitted both personally and professionally to fulfill her desire to be able to offer same sex couples the same option as different sex couples - that is, to marry or have a civil union.

I want to recognise and thank the members of the Government Administration Select Committee who have read and listened to the many submissions received. Their report is reasoned and compassionate in recognising the positions taken by those in favour and those against.

In focussing on value I am drawn to the lyrics of American musician Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore, in his song "Same Love" -

"And I can't change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
I can't change..."

And in voting on this Bill I hope the House will give a message to all young people. You don't have to change. You can be who you are and we, as a society, will value who you are.

Kia Ora.


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