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August 1, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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The Right to Marry: Gay rights in New Zealand

The past 12 months have seen a huge shift towards a focus on gay rights in the media.

Spurred by an uprising of gay activists in America founding projects such as The Trevor Project, and a massive push for GSAs (Gay Straight Alliances) and PFLAGS (Parents of Lesbian and Gay Students) in American schools, the world has caught on and gay rights is now, arguably, the largest human rights issue facing the Western world. But why is this happening, and why does it matter?

First off, we need to understand why gay rights are an important issue. Currently, gay people do not have the same rights as their straight counterparts. Although some countries have eliminated this within their own borders, they are currently in the minority. This means that gay people are second-class citizens: we are entitled to basic citizenship such as a passport and the right to work, but we are also subject to laws that specifically discriminate against us and remove some of our rights, making us less than our straight counterparts.

The crux of the gay rights movement is marriage. That I can be in love with another man and want to commit to him but not be legally allowed to do so, while two straight people can pick each other up off the street and without even knowing each other’s names enter a legal marriage, is absurd. If I love someone and want to marry them, that should be my right—and that is the main drive of the gay rights movement.

Some would argue that marriage is a religious construct and because the Bible does not condone homosexuality, gay people shouldn’t be allowed to marry. This is a blatant discrimination through cherry-picking of facts. To get married before the eyes of God, a couple must be approved by a church. If the celebrant believes the couple are not worthy of a marriage under God, they will not marry them. Despite that, marriage has now entered the non-religious realm for straight people, to the point where marriage for the majority of straight people has nothing to do with God and everything to do with love and commitment. If straight atheist people can get married because they love each other, why can’t gay people?

In the Netherlands, gay marriage is legal but individual churches have the right to refuse to marry a couple if they please. This satisfies both the Christians and the gay community. What is stopping New Zealand from adopting a similar structure? In a recent ResearchNZ poll, it was found that 60 per cent of New Zealanders support gay marriage. Is it time for NZ to face this issue?

When Justice Minister Simon Power attended a POLS lecture late last semester, I decided to query him on gay rights.
“Mr Power, given that in the civil union debate 24 of 27 National MPs voted against civil unions and those three who voted for them have been forced out of Parliament, do you agree with the statement on the National Party website that National seeks to achieve ‘equal citizenship and equal opportunity’?”
“Yes.”
“Do you agree with John Key’s statement at the Big Gay Out that National supports gay rights?”
“I always agree with the Prime Minister.”
“Will you, in your role as the Minister of Justice, move to give equal citizenship and equal opportunity to the gay people of New Zealand?”
“That’s not a priority for National right now.”
“Will it ever be?”
“I can’t speak for future caucuses, I’m afraid, since I’m leaving after this term.”
“Do you believe it ever will be?”
“I honestly can’t say.”

Only 10 minutes earlier, Mr Power had lectured us on how if we really want to be politicians, we have to be “straight-up and honest” with our constituents and we have to tell voters exactly how we feel so they know who represents them. Despite trying to fluff the issue, he has put the writing on the wall: the National Party doesn’t support gay marriage. Therefore, they don’t believe in “equal citizenship and equal opportunity”. If New Zealanders want to continue to claim that our country is fair and equal, that everyone in New Zealand gets a ‘fair go’ and that we are all a decent sort, we need to open our eyes and face the truth—we are not an equal country, and this is only one of many reasons why.

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  14. Kay says:

    Same sex marriage not gay marriage. Waht about lesbians and bisexuals?

    The law doesn’t ask about a person’s sexual orientation it checks the genders of the two people in anycouple applying for marriage. Man and woman – OK. Two men or two women, not OK.

    Any two other people – it depends on what their birth certificates say. A transman and transwoman can marry if both have new birth certificates or if neither has new birth certificates but they can’t marry if one has had a legal change but the other hasn’t yet.

    Some people think marriage is too binary and outdated. But on fairness grounds I think if some couples want marriage they should have it regardless of whether they’re same sex or different sex.

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