Emma Freeman says New Zealand’s decision to legalise gay marriage is part of a wider phenomenon.
On Wednesday, the Parliament of New Zealand passed a new Bill to change their laws on same-sex marriage, for the first time since 1955, by a large majority (77 for, 44 against). It is the first country in the entire Asia-Pacific region to do this. It will be interesting to see if any other countries in the area follow suit. Since 2005, it has been legal for same-sex couples to get a civil partnership in New Zealand, but now couples can also choose to wed.
New Zealand is now one of 13 countries worldwide where it is legal for couples of the same-sex to get married. France and the United Kingdom are currently considering it, and Australia voted it down, by an overwhelming majority (41 against – 26 for), in September of 2012.
In New Zealand, as is the case in the UK and worldwide, there has been much debate about the issue of same-sex marriages. It is a subject that evokes strong passions from both sides of the debate. From one side it is argued that love should be the only prerequisite for marriage, and that homosexuals deserve the same rights to happiness as heterosexuals have. On the other, there are a range of arguments: many believe it to be against their religious beliefs, because in the Bible marriage is a Holy union between ‘man and a woman’, and to allow same-sex couples to enter into wedlock therefore undermines the concept of marriage.
The Vatican embarked on a campaign against same-sex marriage in 2003, shortly after Belgium legalised it. Pope Benedict XVI said that same-sex marriages are ‘immoral, unnatural and harmful.’ There is also an issue in relation to the concept of family. Clearly, homosexual couples cannot have children in the usual way, but if they are allowed to wed, countries then face the issue of whether or not these couples should be permitted to adopt children.
In New Zealand, it seems that the lawmakers have made the decision without too much difficulty. However, polls suggest that the public are less at ease, with a survey carried out by the country’s largest newspaper, the Herald, finding that 52% of people ‘think that marriage should remain between a man and a woman’.
Here in the United Kingdom, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is currently in the House of Lords. However, it may take a long time before gay marriage is actually legalised since the Lords are likely to be opposed on many fronts. But it is a good sign for the advocates of same-sex marriage that the Bill was voted for a second reading in February with a majority of 400-175. The size of this majority shows that it should have the support, which it needs, to pass.
David Cameron is in support of same-sex marriage, saying that: ‘I am a great supporter of marriage, I want to promote marriage, defend marriage, encourage marriage.’ This, it must be noted, is much to the chagrin of many Tory backbenchers and activists (and even a couple of Cabinet members). Yet, in spite of this conflict withing his party, many Conservatives support equal marriage – particularly those under the age of 30.
In the February vote, almost half of Conservative MPs voted against the Bill, but in a letter signed by William Hague, George Obsbourne and Theresa May, MPs were urged to back the Bill, saying that: ‘We believe that opening it up to same-sex couples will strengthen, not weaken, the institution. As David Cameron has said, we should support gay marriage not in spite of being Conservatives, but because we are Conservatives.’
A lot of the debate here in the United Kingdom centres around the idea that marriage is a religious ceremony and that it is unfair to force churches who do not support same-sex marriages to carry out the ceremonies. This is reflected in the proposed Bill, which says that churches have to formally opt-in to allowing the ceremonies.
The world is changing, many countries are now considering the legalisation of same-sex marriages, and even in America polls seem to suggest that opinions are swinging in support. With 13 major countries of the international stage now backing same-sex marriages, is it only a matter of time before it is legal in almost all liberal democratic states?