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Speech: Wall - Marriage Bill

Louisa
WALL
MP for Manurewa
17 April 2013 SPEECH
Third Reading speech – 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 third time.

Mr Speaker. My observation in my time in the House has been that there are few occasions when the public gallery is full to overflowing. This Bill has seen a full gallery at the first and second readings and again tonight. My only other experience of that has been Treaty settlement legislation recording the agreement reached between Maori and the Crown.

In both instances the parties affected are a minority group who've been marginalised. They've been dealt with unjustly under the law and steps are being taken to right the wrongs they've suffered.

And it shows me that this process matters. Having Parliament recognise and address injustices and unfairness matters to those affected by it. It's the start of a healing process.

This third reading is our road towards healing and including all citizens in our state institution of marriage regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.

While our focus has been on Aotearoa it's important to remember we are one country that's part of a global community discussing marriage equality. 12 countries have already been through this process.

The US President has declared his support unequivocally. The Queen has recently signed a Commonwealth Charter that explicitly opposes all forms of discrimination which she describes as emphasising inclusiveness. The UK, led by their Prime Minister, has introduced legislation.

But marriage equality is only one issue. There's still a lot of work to be done to address discrimination against our LGBTI communities. Closer to home many of our Pacific neighbours still criminalise homosexuality. So too in countries of our new migrant communities. We need to understand these heritage identities and how they contribute to this debate.

As the indigenous people of Aotearoa we can acknowledge that takatapui have always been part of our history and culture. And that is the case for many indigenous people around the world. Fa'afafine, akava'ine, fakaleiti and manu vahine are words that go back in time to identify LGBTI. They are part of our Pacific heritage and need to be acknowledged.

And we need to learn from history. Marriage laws have continually been used as a tool of oppression. The Nuremberg Laws in 1935 prohibited marriage between German nationals and Jews.

The South African Immorality Act and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriage Act prohibited marriage and sexual contact between races until it was repealed in 1985. 40 US states prohibited interracial marriage. Women lost all property rights and their identity on marriage.
Excluding a group in society from marriage is oppressive and unacceptable. There's no justification for the prohibitions of the past based on religion, race or gender. Today we're embarrassed and appalled by these examples.

And in every instance it was action by the State. This is not about Church teachings or philosophy. It never has been. It's about the State excluding people from the institution of marriage because of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. And that's no different from the actions taken in these historical examples.

Principles of justice and equality aren't served if the key civil institution of marriage is reserved for heterosexuals only. In the landmark Ontario decision Justice Laforme wrote and I quote:

"Any 'alternative' status that nonetheless provides for the same financial benefits as marriage in and of itself amounts to segregation. This case is about access to a deeply meaningful social institution - it is about equal participation in the activity, expression, security and integrity of marriage. Any 'alternative' to marriage, in my opinion, simply offers the insult of formal equivalency without the promise of substantive equality."

Ever since Brown versus Board of Education in 1954 the separate but equal doctrine has been seen as segregation and contrary to achieving equality.

I want to emphasise again what this Bill does NOT do. It doesn't legalise criminal offences. In fact it's clear the definition proposed in this amendment is a union of 2 people only.

It doesn't force any Minister or celebrant to marry a couple against their wishes. Section 29 remains in force and has been strengthened by the Select Committee amendment.

And it doesn't change our adoption laws. Gay couples have adopted children for many years but the law hasn't recognised that parenting reality. Children of same sex relationships haven't been allowed to have both parents names on their birth certificate. The injustice and pain of this was made clear by an email I received and I'm able to share it with the House. It reads:

"My partner and I had been together for 7 years when we decided to start a family. When our daughter was born my partner's name was on the birth certificate as her birth mother. When our daughter was 13 my partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We talked to our solicitor and found out that the only way that I could adopt our daughter was if the relationship with her mum was legally terminated. How could we possibly do that to a child who was faced with her mum dying? Instead I applied for, and was granted, guardianship.

When my daughter turned 18, the guardianship expired. It was only when my own parents died that it struck home with me that my daughter and I had no legal relationship despite me having been her parent all her life. We talked it over and I applied to adopt her - fortunately all this happened before she turned 20 because I believe it might then have been too late. It was the right thing to do but still hard on her - she gets a new birth certificate and her mum legally no longer exists.

This is just so ridiculous and so wrong - if your bill had been law when my partner was still alive then we could have married and our daughter would have both her parents recorded as such."
Under this Bill both women could've been spouses and recorded on their daughter’s birth certificate. Without this Bill that's a privilege limited to heterosexual married couples only.

In our society the meaning of marriage is universal - it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person. Law that allows all people to enjoy that state is the right thing to do. Law that prohibits people from enjoying that state is just wrong. Those who celebrate religious or cultural marriage are absolutely unaffected by this Bill. That has never been part of the State's marriage law. And it never should be.
There’s another similarity between this Bill and Treaty settlement legislation - the quality and tone of the debate within this House. The debate has largely focussed on the actual issues. I believe that's the result of our effective cross party working group with Tau Henare and Kevin Hague. Conrad Reyners, national spokesperson for the Campaign for Marriage Equality was also involved and with Cameron, Jackie, Rawa, Tony, Natalie, Kurt and Andrew have kept the issue alive and relevant. I'm also grateful to Megan Campbell, Shaun Wallis and David Farrar for their support and work with MPs and my EA Mereana Ruri for helping coordinate this activity.

I would also like to acknowledge the leadership across the House - from the Prime Minister who expressed his support early on, as did the leader of the Labour Party, David Shearer. And we have seen leadership by John Banks, Peter Dunne, Hone Harawira, Pita Sharples and Tariana Turia. I also acknowledge the Greens who from the outset have taken a supportive position as a party. For them it was not a conscience vote but a manifesto commitment.

There are many individuals and groups within our communities and Churches who've continually addressed the facts and made it real. I particularly thank the youth wings of all political parties and student unions around the country. The messages have remained positive. I'm very proud to be a member of a community that has stood up to be counted with such dignity and reason.

A personal thanks to everyone who contacted me by email and through Facebook. Particularly Craig Young, and those in the community, offering support and often just saying thanks. And finally nga mihi aroha kia koutou nga Whanau. And to my darling Prue - thank you for your work and sharing this journey with me.

Nothing can counteract the very real negative consequences of not passing this Bill. But nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this Bill. It's an honour to represent your country and the people of New Zealand. I'm proud to be a member of this 50th Parliament that will continue New Zealand's proud human rights tradition. I thank my colleagues, for simply doing what is fair, just and right.



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