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Same-sex marriages (SSM), civil unions, etc. in New Zealand

2013: Parliament legalizes same-sex marriage.
2018: Court attacks charitable group's status.

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2013-MAR: Recap of the current status of SSM in New Zealand:

The country decriminalized homosexual behavior in 1986 and made same-sex civil unions available in 2005. Civil unions give registered couples all of the benefits and protections of marriage, except for the one item that many couples consider the most important -- the right to call their union a marriage and to be recognized as married.

Louisa Wall, an openly lesbian member of the center-left Labour Party was the main legislator promoting the bill. After introducing it during 2012, she said:

"For me, if two people love each other and marry and commit to each other for the rest of their lives, it should be something we all celebrate."

The main group promoting marriage equality has been the group LegaliseLove. Its Wellington coordinator, Joseph Habgood, said:

"This will make a huge difference, not only for couples who want to get married but also for young people who are struggling with their sexuality. This is Parliament sending a message saying 'you matter, you are equal'. ... It was only a short time ago that we were fighting not to be treated as criminals. ... We've been heartened by the high levels of support we've received [for same-sex marriage]. It's a sign that the world really is changing."

"Family First" is the main group opposing SSM. They sent an anti-SSM petition to parliament signed by 50,000 New Zealanders -- about 1.8% of the adult population. It subsequently grew to 75,000 signatures. Coordinator, Bob McCoskrie, said:

"The definition of marriage should stay as traditionally and commonly conceived, not one manipulated by politics and political correctness."

He also said:

"Historically and culturally, marriage is about man and a woman, and it shouldn't be touched. It doesn't need to be."

"Protect Marriage" is another group opposing marriage equality in New Zealand. They mounted an online campaign to spread their concern that the law would undermine the traditional definition of marriage.

According to the Associated Press, polls had been showing that support for SSM among New Zealanders was at 70%. This was slightly higher than the support in the U.S. However, Colin Craig, the leader of the Conservative Party, noted that many New Zealanders oppose the bill. Like many conservatives in other countries, he apparently has little faith in public opinion polls, because he responded:

"We're seeing the politicians make a decision tonight that the people of this country wouldn't make."

During the first reading of the bill, an amendment was proposed that the bill not be implemented unless the majority of New Zealanders agree through a referendum: Rt. Honorable Winston Peters commented:


The amendment did not proceed.

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2013-APR-17: The "Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill" is debated:

MP Maurice Williamson gave a rather humorous speech. A slightly edited version follows:

"I‚€™ve had a reverend in my local electorate say the¬ ‚€˜gay onslaught will start the day this law is passed.‚€™ So, we are struggling to know what the gay onslaught will look like. We don‚€™t know if it will come down the Pakaranga highway as a series of troops or whether it will be a gas that flows over the electorate and blocks us all in.

I also had a Catholic priest tell me that I was supporting an unnatural act. I found that interesting coming from someone who has taken an oath of celibacy for his whole life.

I also had a leader tell me I would burn in the fires of Hell for eternity. ... That was a bad mistake because I‚€™ve got a degree in physics. I used the thermodynamic laws of physics. I put in my body weight and my humidity and so on. I assumed the furnace to be at 5,000 degrees and I will last for just on 2.1 seconds.

One of the messages I‚€™d had was that this bill was the cause of our drought. ... Well if any of you follow my Twitter account, In the Pakuranga electorate this morning, it was pouring with rain, we had the most enormous big gay rainbow across my electorate. It has to be a sign. ..."

"We are allowing two people who love each other to have that recognized, and I can‚€™t see what‚€™s wrong with that for love nor money, sir. I just cannot. I cannot understand why someone would be opposed. I understand why people don‚€™t like what others do. That‚€™s fine. We‚€™re all in that category. But I give a promise to those people who are opposed to this bill, right now. I give you a watertight, guaranteed promise. The sun will still rise tomorrow. Your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything. Your mortgage will not grow. You will not have skin diseases or rashes, or toads in your beard, sir. The world will just carry on."

He concluded with a quotation from Deuteronomy 1:29:¬ "Be ye not afraid."


Within a day, it had been viewed 175,600 times.

During the debate, Louisa Wall, who sponsored the bill, received a standing ovation when she told fellow legislators that the change was:

"... our road toward healing. In our society, the meaning of marriage is universal. It's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person. ... Nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill."

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2013-APR-17: The bill is passed:

At its final reading, a bill to legalize SSM passed in Parliament with a substantial majority: 77 votes in favor, 43 against. 64% of the legislators voted in favor of the bill -- a level of support slightly lower than the general population.

USA Today reported that:

"People watching from the public gallery immediately broke into song after the result was announced, singing a New Zealand anthem in the indigenous Maori language."


Member of Parliament Tau Henare welcomed persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. He concluded with a traditional greeting in his native Maori language:

"My message to you all is: 'Welcome to the mainstream. Do well. Kia Ora'."

At the marriage bill's third and final reading, the legislature amended New Zealand's 1955 marriage act to redefine marriage so that all loving, committed couples, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, will be able to marry. The large margin in the vote was due, in part, to the support of the both the conservative Prime Minister, John Key, and the leader of the opposition, Phil Mercer.

Thus, New Zealand became 13th country in the world, the first country in the Asia-Pacific region, and the most recent predominately English speaking country whose government has passed a bill to legalize SSM.

Bank teller Tania Penafiel Bermudez, said on behalf of herself and her partner:

For us, we can now feel equal to everyone else. This means we can feel safe and fair and right in calling each other wife and wife."

Lawyer Jills Angus Burney, a Presbyterian, said:

"This is really, really huge. It's really important to me. It's just unbelievable."

After being signed into law, marriage in New Zealand became defined in the marriage act as a union of two persons, without regard for their birth-declared gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. According to the American Foundation for Equal Rights, marriage licenses were scheduled to be available to same-sex couples on 2013-AUG-19.

The tourist industry is looking forward to a flood of LGBT tourists, particularly from Australia, as a result of this legislation. Reece Farmilo owns Sydney's Out Travel, one of the biggest LGBT travel agencies in Australia. He said:

''I think it is going to be huge. It will definitely boost tourism to New Zealand with thousands and thousands going over to get married or as wedding guests. We've already had calls this morning from people wanting to go, and from wedding planners based in New Zealand who want to work with us.'' 8

Tim Burgess, the general manager of Tourism New Zealand' for Australia, said:

''We think it will bring a positive impact in visitor numbers from Australia, especially because of the close relationship and proximity of the two countries. 'New Zealand is already the No.1 holiday choice for Australians going overseas [1.15 million visited last year], so why not the No.1 same-sex marriage destination?'' 8

At the time that New Zealand attained marriage equality, Australia did not recognize out-of-country same-sex marriages. However, the topic is being actively debated, as it is in all of the large predominately English speaking countries that have not already legalized SSM.

The Governor-General of New Zealand gave royal assent to the bill two days later, on 2013-APR-19. The law took effect four months later, on 2013-AUG-19.

At that time -- among the predominately English speaking countries of the world -- this left only Australia, Northern Ireland, Scotland and about 70% of the population of the United States from among the large, predominately English speaking countries of the world that had not legalized SSM. As of 2018, only Northern Ireland still prohibits same-sex marriage.

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2018-SEP-06: Auckland High Court attacks the charitable status of a New Zealand non-profit group:

Ever since mid 2015, when gay marriages were legalized across the U.S. 9 controversy over religious freedom in that country largely switched:

  • from conflicts over religious freedom of belief, speech, writing, assembly, and proselytizing,

  • to the religious freedom to discriminate against others -- almost entirely the LGBT community.

This transition is also visible in New Zealand, with "Family First" -- the main conservative Christian non-profit group in New Zealand whose religious beliefs cause them to oppose marriage equality for lesbian, gay, and same-sex bisexual couples.

Justice Simon France of the Auckland High Court questioned Family First‚€™s charitable status. He said that the agency's:

"... core purpose of promoting the traditional family unit cannot be shown to be in the public benefit in the charitable sense. ..." 10

The "traditional family unit" referred to involves a woman married to a man, with or without children. The term specifically excludes marriages by a couple of the same sex.

He said that Family First is mainly involved in advocacy for:

"... a specific viewpoint to the extent it involves law change favoring the traditional family unit, would on its face run counter to human rights law which prohibits discrimination on such bases. Unless able to be shown to be a reasonable limit, the position advocated for would be unlawful, an obstacle to charitable status." 10

Family First plans to appeal the Auckland High Court's decision to the Court of Appeal.

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill - First Reading - Part 5," You Tube, at:
  2. Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill - Third Reading," You Tube, at:
  3. "MPs cheer marriage vote," You Tube, at:
  4. "Neil Sands, "New Zealand set to legalise gay marriage," AFP, 2013-APR-16, at:
  5. "New Zealand legalises same-sex marriage," BBC News/Asia, 2013-APR-13, at:
  6. "New Zealand lawmakers approve gay-marriage bill," Associated Press, 2013-APR-27, at: 2013-APR-17.
  7. Nick Perry, "N Zealand is 13th country to legalize gay marriage," Associated Press, 2013-APR-17, at:
  8. Robert Upe, "Tourism's rainbow connection,", 2013-APR-19/ at:
  9. The U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in the case Obergefell v. Hodges on 2015-JUN-26 that legalized same-sex marriage everywhere in the U.S. except for American Samoa. Pepple in that territory are recognized only as American Residents and not as American Citizens. Thus, rulings by the High Court are not necessarily recognized there.
  10. Carolyn Moynihan, "Promoting the natural family is ‚€˜not in the public benefit‚€™," Mercatornet, 2018-SEP-06, at:

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Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > SSM Menu > New Zealand > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2018 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2013-APR-17
Latest update: 2018-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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