Louisa Wall’s speech on the Marriage Bill

The marriage bill was a Member’s Bill submitted and guided by Louisa Wall. This is her speech from the third reading last night.

Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill – Third Reading – Part 1

Draft transcript:


Third Reading

LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa):

Tēnā koutou katoa. I move, That the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill be now read a third time. My observation in my time in the House has been that there are few occasions when the public gallery is full to overflowing.

This bill has seen a full gallery at the first and second readings, and again tonight. My only other experience of that has been Treaty settlement legislation recording the agreement reached between Māori and the Crown.

In both instances the parties affected are minority groups that have been marginalised. They have been dealt with unjustly under the law. Steps are being taken to right the wrongs they have suffered, and it shows me that this process matters.

Having Parliament recognise and address injustice and unfairness matters to those affected by it. It is the start of the healing process.

This third reading is our road towards healing and including all citizens in our State institution of marriage, regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Although our focus has been on Aotearoa, it is important to remember we are one country that is part of a global community discussing marriage equality. Twelve countries have already been through this process.

The US President has declared his support unequivocally.

The Queen has recently signed a Commonwealth charter that explicitly opposes all forms of discrimination, which she describes as emphasising inclusiveness.

The UK, led by its Prime Minister, has introduced legislation.

But marriage equality is only one issue. There is still a lot of work to be done to address discrimination against our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex—or LGBTI—communities.

Closer to home, many of our Pacific neighbours still criminalise homosexuality; so too do the countries of our new migrant communities. We need to understand these heritage identities and how they contribute to this debate.

As the indigenous people of Aotearoa, we can acknowledge that takatāpui have always been part of our history and culture, and that is the case for many indigenous people around the world: fa‘fafine, akava‘ine, fakaleiti, and mahu vahine are words that go back in time to identifying our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex communities.

They are part of our Pacific heritage and need to be acknowledged. And we need to learn from history.

Marriage laws have continually been used as a tool of oppression.

The Nuremberg laws in 1935 prohibited marriage between German nationals and Jews.

The South African Immorality Act and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriage Act prohibited marriage and sexual contact between races until they were repealed in 1985.

Forty US states prohibited interracial marriage.

Women lost all property rights and their identity upon marriage.

Excluding a group in society from marriage is oppressive and unacceptable. There is no justification for the prohibitions of the past based on religion, race, or gender.

Today we are embarrassed and appalled by these examples, and in every instance it was action by the State. This is not about church teachings or philosophy. It never has been.

It is about the State excluding people from the institution of marriage because of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity, and that is no different from the actions taken in these historical examples.

Principles of justice and equality are not served if the key civil institution of marriage is reserved for heterosexuals only.

In the landmark Ontario decision, Justice LaForme wrote: “Any ‘alternative status’ that nonetheless provides for the same financial benefits as marriage in and of itself amounts to segregation.

This case is about access to a deeply meaningful [social] institution—it is about equal participation in the activity, expression, security, and integrity of marriage. Any ‘alternative’ to marriage, in my opinion simply offers the insult of formal equivalency without the … promise of substantive equality.”

Ever since Brown v Board of Education in 1954, the “separate but equal” doctrine has been seen as segregation and contrary to achieving equality.

I want to emphasise again what this bill does not do.

It does not legalise criminal offences. In fact, it is clear the definition proposed in this amendment is a union of two people only.

It does not force any minister or celebrant to marry a couple against their wishes. Section 29 remains in force and has been strengthened by the Government Administration Committee amendment.

It does not change adoption laws. Gay couples have adopted children for many years, but the law has not recognised that parenting reality. Children of same-sex relationships have not been allowed to have both parents’ names on their birth certificate.

The injustice and pain of this was made clear by an email I received, and I am able to share it with the House. It reads:

“My partner and I had been together for 7 years when we decided to start a family. When our daughter was born, my partner’s name was on her birth certificate as her birth mother.

When our daughter was 13, my partner was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We talked to our solicitor and found out that the only way I could adopt our daughter was if the relationship with her mum was legally terminated. How could we possibly do that to a child who was faced with her mum dying? Instead I applied for, and was granted, guardianship.

When my daughter turned 18, the guardianship expired. It was only when my own parents died that it struck home with me that my daughter and I had no legal relationship, despite me having been her parent all her life. We talked it over and I applied to adopt her.

Fortunately, all this happened before she turned 20, because I believe it might have been too late. It was the right thing to do but still hard on her. She gets a new birth certificate and her mum no longer legally exists. This is just so ridiculous and so wrong.

If your bill had been law when my partner was still alive, then we could have married and our daughter would have both her parents recorded as such.”

Under this bill both women could have been spouses and recorded on their daughter’s birth certificate. Without this bill that is a privilege limited to heterosexual married couples only.

In our society the meaning of marriage is universal. It is a declaration of love and commitment to a special person. Law that allows all people to enjoy that state is the right thing to do.

Law that prohibits people from enjoying that state is just wrong.

Those who celebrate religious or cultural marriage are absolutely unaffected by this bill. That has never been part of the State’s marriage law and it never should be.

There is another similarity between this bill and Treaty settlement legislation: the quality and tone of the debate within this House.

I believe that is the result of our effective cross-party working group with Tau Henare and Kevin Hague. Conrad Reyners, national spokesperson for the Campaign for Marriage Equality, was also involved, and with Cameron, Jacqui, Fedora, Tony, Natalie, Kurt, and Andrew, has kept the issue alive and relevant.

I am also grateful to Megan Campbell, Sean Wallace, and David Farrar for their support and work with MPs, and my executive assistant, Mereana Ruri, for helping coordinate this activity.

I would also like to acknowledge the leadership across the House, from the Prime Minister, who expressed his support early on, as did the leader of the Labour Party, David Shearer, and we have seen leadership by John Banks, Peter Dunne, Hone Harawira, Pita Sharples, and Tariana Turia.

I also acknowledge the Greens, who from the outset have taken a supportive position as a party. For them it was not a conscience vote but a manifesto commitment.

There are many individuals and groups within our communities and churches who have continually addressed the facts and made it real.

I particularly thank the youth wings of all political parties and student unions around the country. The messages have remained positive.

I am very proud to be a member of a community that has stood up to be counted with such dignity and reason.

A personal thanks to everyone who has contacted me by email, through Facebook, particularly Craig Young and those in the community offering support and often just saying thanks.

Finally, ngā mihi aroha ki a koutou te whānau, and to my darling crew, thank you for your work and for sharing this journey with me. Nothing can counteract the very real negative consequences of not passing this bill, but nothing could make me more proud to be a New Zealander than passing this bill.

It is an honour to represent your country and the people of New Zealand. I am proud to be a member of this 50th Parliament, which will continue New Zealand’s proud human rights tradition.

I thank my colleagues for simply doing what is fair, just, and right. Kia ora.


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