A private member’s bill to amend the Marriage Act has cleared another hurdle on its way to ensuring marriage equality for LGBT New Zealanders.
The change has been spearheaded by openly lesbian Labour MP Louisa Wall, who is of Maori descent. At first reading, the bill was supported by 80 parliamentarians (out of 120), a surprisingly strong showing, including a majority of MPs from the governing centre-right National Party.
New Zealand introduced civil unions in 2005 under the preceding Labour-led government. According to a recent poll – ironically conducted on behalf of the Family First lobby group that opposes gay marriage – 47% of New Zealanders back a change in the law while 43% believe that civil unions are sufficient.
Prime Minister John Key’s support for the legislation has no doubt convinced many right-leaning National supporters. Also on board are some unlikely allies, such as Key’s coalition partner John Banks of the Act Party. As a National MP in the 1980s, Banks had vociferously opposed equal rights for gay and lesbian New Zealanders.
New Zealand has been a leader in LGBT political representation, having elected the world’s first transgendered MP, Georgina Beyer. Currently there are openly gay and lesbian members in each of the three leading – National, Labour, and Green – parties’ caucuses.