The New Zealand government had announced that it was planning to
introduce a single bill which would define rights and obligations of:
This is believed to be the first proposed legislation by any government that
would have included all three types of relationships in the same law.
Some of the individuals mentioned in the following article appear to
misunderstand the proposed legislation. They seem to think that the
government is simply planning to enlarge the definition of marriage to
include same-sex couples. The government's actual intent is similar to that of
the State of Vermontat the time: to create a parallel type
of relationship for same-sex couples who would be given the same rights
as married couples, but would not refer to them as married. The term
"marriage" would still refer only to opposite-sex couples
registered by the government.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand:
Christian groups in New Zealand have vowed to fight government plans to
recognize gay and lesbian relationships and grant same-sex couples the
same rights as married couples.
Should the government legalize same-sex marriage, complete with
divorce and adoption rights, New Zealand would be the third country to
do so. Denmark allowed homosexual marriages in 1989, and the Netherlands
passed similar legislation in  September.
Same-sex marriage is an equally divisive topic in the United States,
where voters in 35 states have approved legislation defining marriage as
a relationship between a man and a woman only. Some of those states also
refuse to recognize same-sex relationships made legal by court order and
subsequent legislative action in Vermont earlier this year and by the
Hawaii legislature in 1997.
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark favors legal recognition of
gay couples, despite significant opposition in public submission to a
government discussion paper. Clark says recognition could happen within
a year, but laws governing the division of property could be passed as
early as next month.
A Parliamentary Select Committee decided to push through the Property
(Relationships) Bill, which would give the same property rights as
married couples to gay and de facto couples after three years together.
The bill is likely to become effective in February 2002.
More than 130,000 couples, including 1,600 gay couples, would be
affected but could sign "opt-out" agreements to avoid property
A parliamentary report released earlier this month indicated that
many New Zealand residents support the proposals despite concerns raised
by 1,631 public submissions. Justice Ministry officials said it could
not find any other country that included married, de facto, and same-sex
couples in one law.
New Zealand lawyers oppose the proposed property law changes and have
been advising couples on the changes to keep their assets separate.
Associate Justice Minister Margaret Wilson has said the new law is
"sensible, fair, liberal, and humane," but many
[conservative] Christian groups disagree. The Christian Heritage Political Party
(CHP) opposed property law reforms and will oppose any attempts to
reform marriage laws.
"Children have the right to be parented by both a mother and
a father," Christian Heritage leader the Reverend Graham
Capill told Newsroom. "They need the input of a male and a
female. If the government tries to bring in legislation for homosexual
marriage or the adoption of children, we will create quite a campaign."
The CHP was among 8,464 organizations and individuals that responded
to a Ministry of Justice discussion paper, "Same Sex Couples and
the Law," released to gauge feelings on the issue of gay
unions. The New Zealand government asked the ministry to prepare the
16-question paper to assess the consistency between the Human Rights
Act and other laws that treat same-sex couples differently from
traditional marriages. The discussion paper followed a 1998 Court of
Appeal decision prohibiting same-sex couples from legally marrying under
New Zealand's gender-neutral 1955 Marriage Act.
The Justice Ministry received 3,546 responses representing the views
of 8,464 organizations and individuals, with religious groups making up
the bulk of groups that responded. Eighty percent of the respondents
rejected assertions that same-sex couples should marry, while 82 percent
said same-sex couples should not be allowed to adopt. Many asserted that
the government was wrong to decriminalize homosexuality when the 1986
Homosexual Law Reform Bill was passed.
The report summarizing responses was completed in July but has only
recently been released. Many respondents consider marriage a moral and
religious institution, rather than a secular one. Others view the
current refusal to allow same-sex marriage and subsequent legal
protections as a breach of human rights. Under the 1993 Human Rights
Act, discrimination on the grounds of homosexuality and religion is
prohibited. The act, however, does not supersede other legislation. It
defines homosexuality, but not religion.
Clark, who said she had not read the submissions, dismissed the
comments as not reflective of public opinion.
But Capill accused the Coalition Labour Government of selective
listening on moral matters: "If the result had been the other way around
you can bet your bottom dollar that Helen Clark would say, "Here's a mandate to
change legislation. Labour is trying to have
their cake and eat it, too."
Marriage between a man and a woman is the appropriate environment for
child-rearing, Capill insisted. He did not disagree that gay couples can
have stable, long-lasting relationships. But he shares the opinion of
the New Zealand's Catholic Bishops Conference that such
relationships are not the basis for legal entitlements. The Catholic
church teaches that homosexual behavior is morally wrong. New
Zealand's bishops object to registration of same-sex couples, but
support legislation that protects human rights, including property
The New Zealand Law Commission supports registration of
same-sex couples. But Commissioner D.F. Dugdale contends that same-sex
marriages would offend many people. "Gays and lesbians should be
prepared to acknowledge that they are not harmed by a legal code
designed to avoid giving what may be seen as a gratuitous offense to
those for whom matrimony is a holy estate," he said in a
submission to the ministry.
Gay Christian groups disagree. GalaXies Incorporated (Gay,
Lesbian and Bisexual Christian community), based in Wellington, believes
that same-sex couples should have the same legal privileges as
heterosexual couples in regard to marriage, including access rights upon
the death of a partner.
The New Zealand Human Rights Commission backs reforms to
secure legal rights for gay couples. People in same-sex relationships
are second-class citizens with respect to the most important aspect of
their personal lives, the commission maintains. Any reform should allow
them to choose a legal status which is in all respects the same as that
attaching to marriage, the commission contends.
But that does not necessarily mean access to marriage law, maintains
Nigel Christie, a legal adviser to New Zealand's gay community. A
prominent supporter of gay rights in New Zealand and a member of at
least six homosexual groups, Christie notes a recent decision of a New
Zealand High Court judge defining marriage as a fundamental civil
right covering public and secular areas, rather than spiritual affairs.
On the basis of equality under New Zealand's domestic Human Rights
law, Christie maintains that same-sex couples have the right to marry.
Wellington Christian Apologetics Society director David Lane
calls that right an attack on the Christian faith. He is appalled at
calls to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, arguing that any
moral aspect cannot be ignored. "[Marriage] is about giving
legal preference to a unique relationship between a man and a woman
because of what that relationship does for social order," he
said. "To call a same-sex relationship 'marriage' is an
inversion of the very term."
Clark indicated that the introduction of any bill redefining marriage
laws would be subject to a conscience vote after a Parliamentary
Select Committee hearing. A conscience vote is one in which a
political party does not direct its members about how to vote but leaves
the vote to the individual member's conscience.
Lane concedes that homosexuality is no worse a sin than promiscuity
or adultery but says the family headed by an opposite-sex couple is "the cornerstone of society"
and must be preserved in law.