Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill speeches

It’s possible that if an alternative marriage equality bill had been drawn from the Member’s ballot it would have been as successful (at this first reading stage) as Louisa’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill.

Regardless, Wall has risen to the occasion as a new MP and shown many far more experienced MPs how to do a great job. She has presented and promoted her bill with knowledge, dignity and passion.She has listened to criticisms and arguments against her bill and she has answered them.

This shows in her two speeches in the debate in parliament last night. Video of her opening and closing speeches:

Transcript (draft):


First Reading

LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa):

Kia ora, Mr Speaker. Tēnā koutou katoa. I move, That the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill be now read a first time. I nominate the Government Administration Committee to consider the bill.

I am proud to be the sponsor of this bill before the House, which seeks to define marriage as between two people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. It is generally known as the bill that will enable marriage equality between consenting adults, underpinned by principles of love, fairness, and equality of opportunity for all New Zealand citizens.

The bill has attracted passionate reactions from a number of quarters, and the result of that passion has seen statements that reflect a diversity of opinions across our society. This ability to engage and to make a statement and to have a say about this issue is fundamental.

I want to highlight that this is an important aspect of a modern democratic society. The starting point for this bill rests with our role on the international stage.

In 1944, when the founding document of the United Nations’ charter was being developed, New Zealand pushed for a stronger focus on human rights. In 1948 we again played an important and effective role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights .

We saw the need for such a declaration and participated in its instigation and development. This is not surprising, given that we led the world in enabling women to have the right to vote. We did that in 1893 and it took the United States another 27 years to reach that same point.

That sexual orientation is a ground of unlawful discrimination is not a matter of dispute. In 1993 we as a country amended the Human Rights Commission Act 1977 to outlaw discrimination on a wider variety of grounds, including sexual orientation. This is what we must always remember when we discuss this issue.

This issue will make all citizens and people of New Zealand equal under the law, given that currently same-gender couples cannot obtain a marriage licence from the State.

What my bill does not do is require any person or church to carry out a marriage if it does not fit with the beliefs of the celebrant or the religious interpretation a church has. Section 29 remains in place and makes it clear that once a marriage licence is obtained by a couple, it does not oblige a minister or celebrant to marry that couple. That is the situation now and nothing will change.

Because we have freedom of religion in New Zealand, no religious body is bound to marry a couple if that marriage is at odds with its religious belief. For churches and religious institutions, such discrimination would be justified under section 5 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 , based on the right to freedom of religions, specifically the manifestation of religion and belief, under section 15 of this Act.

It is the State’s role to uphold our laws and our international obligations, and to ensure that everyone has equality under the law. The church can discriminate, but the State should not and cannot.

We as parliamentarians belong to the only institution in New Zealand—our Parliament—that makes our laws and upholds not only these laws but our international obligations as well.

It is not the State’s role to sanction heterosexuality or homosexuality. We recognised that as a country in 1986 when we decriminalised homosexual acts. Nor is it the State’s role to judge the marriages of its citizens.

Civil marriage is the legal concept of marriage as a governmental institution, irrespective of religious affiliation in accordance with the marriage laws of the State. Marriage as an institution pre-dates Government and Christianity . It has been part of civilisations and cultures, and has over that time changed dramatically. Same-sex marriage between men was not uncommon in the days of the Roman emperor Nero .

The Catholic Church initially saw the institution of marriage as tainted and undesirable, and advocated chastity and celibacy. Once the church adopted and adapted marriage, it was for life. It could not be dissolved. Married women assumed the identity of their husband and he received all her property. By marriage, the legal doctrine of coverture meant a woman had no legal status. She could not own property, enter into contracts, earn money, or obtain an education without her husband’s consent.

The church and State has at different times refused to marry people who had been divorced, refused to marry people of different faiths, and refused to marry people of different races. Those restrictions have changed because they were not fair and just. Women were not able to be guardians of their children upon a divorce or separation. A law was needed to change that.

For women to own property required law changes as recently as 1884. A woman was only able to obtain a divorce from her husband if there was another cause alongside adultery, such as extreme cruelty, desertion, or incest. A man, however, could obtain a divorce immediately on the basis of his wife’s adultery.

These are all part of the historical matrix that is marriage. Thankfully the need to change some of the laws has been recognised and implemented. With women obtaining the right to vote and finally having legal status, the greatest transformation of marriage began. There are a number of shocking historical facts that surround this subject, and we baulk at how in a civilised society this could happen.

Today is the time to open the institution of marriage to all people who are eligible. There is no reasonable ground on which the State should deny any citizen the right to enter the institution of marriage if he or she chooses. That is not the process of inclusion.

To any person concerned about their own beliefs and how they wish to celebrate marriage, it is important to always remember that this bill allows a couple to only obtain a marriage licence. It does not mean that a minister or celebrant must marry the couple. Section 29 of the Marriage Act 1955 says that, and this will not change.

Some people have suggested that the Church cannot share its view about marriage because of section 56 of the Marriage Act. Section 56 says that a person cannot state that another person’s marriage is not legal. That does not concern the general view of marriage but is directed to an individual, and the reality is that once sanctioned by law, the marriage is legal, and no Church person should be stating otherwise.

I want to highlight two specific consequences if my bill becomes law. Under section 3 of our current Adoption Act a joint application to adopt can be made by only spouses or the birth parent and his or her spouse. A spouse is a marital partner, so if you are married, you are spouses.

Therefore, under the current wording of the Adoption Act same-sex marital partners as spouses would be able to make a joint application to adopt. There are shortcomings in our current Adoption Act, and the Care of Children Law Reform Bill, which is also in the ballot, would be unaffected by this bill.

Also an obvious consequential amendment is to section 30(2) of the Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Relationships Registration Act 1995 . This provision limits a trans person who is married and who gets a Family Court declaration under section 28 of this Act to change their sex details from having those details amended on a birth certificate. This section should be deleted.

A marriage stood strong through the significant change of one partner transitioning from one sex to another should remain recognised under New Zealand law. How any person’s marriage is performed has never been the State’s business, whether it be cultural, religious, or civil, it is the decision for the couple and their whānau .

What this bill will do is enable that decision to be made and for all people to have the same choices about how they make a commitment to one another. Where it requires a licence, the State should not exclude any citizen who is otherwise eligible. To exclude two people from obtaining a marriage licence based on their sexual orientation and gender identity is not tolerable.

We have an opportunity as a Parliament to rectify this discriminatory, unequal, and unfair application of the law. Kia ora.

Closing speech:

LOUISA WALL (Labour—Manurewa):

Kia ora anō.

In this closing reply I would like to acknowledge that the fight for all New Zealanders to be recognised as equal citizens under the law is one that has been fought in Aotearoa for around 50 years.

To that end I wish to acknowledge two women who are here tonight, who are the litigants in the Quilter case that brought this issue to the fore and recognised that changes necessary to bring about equality were matters for Parliament. Jools Joslin and Jenny Rowan applied for a marriage licence in 1995 almost 10 years after homosexual law reform, and were denied.

They and two other couples challenged that action through the High Court and the Court of Appeal. They then took the matter to the United Nations Human Rights Committee to test that denial against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Incrementally their courage in challenging the discriminatory implementation of the provisions in the Marriage Act set the platform for the consideration of this bill tonight.

I want to acknowledge all people involved in the campaign for marriage equality.They are people from across the political spectrum representing rainbow groups, queer-straight alliance groups, human rights advocates and groups, our religious leadership, and communities and many others who are fighting for legalised love, and those who have blogged, those who have shared their stories in the media, and those who have led meetings and discussions in our families and communities—thank you for your solidarity in advancing the rights of other New Zealanders and proud citizens of our country.

I specifically want to acknowledge our Pacific and ethnic communities. I mean no disrespect to you. Your beliefs and values and those of your heritage countries of origin are valid.

The purpose and intent of this bill is very clear. It means that the law and the social and civil institutions that that law governs apply equally to everyone. It means that a couple who so choose can apply for, and receive, a marriage licence from the State.

What it does not do is affect a person’s own beliefs about marriage. The fact that a couple wants to make a commitment to each other by marriage is a cause of celebration, and it can only benefit our society and families as a whole. Marginalising and discriminating against particular sectors does not benefit society and families.

It is a simple choice. Do we support discriminatory laws or not? I know I do not, and, hopefully, that is true of most of the members of this House. History tells us that the struggles for the gay community, as with any minority, have often been cruel.

What has been heartening in this discussion has been the positive response from younger people across the board. It is a generational issue, but it is also an issue about personal experience, and the fact that when you have a friend or a whānau member who is gay, you do not want them to suffer or have fewer rights than you. That is not fair or just.

Equality for all New Zealand citizens under the law is not a moral issue. It is an issue of the inherent equal value and worth of every New Zealand citizen in a modern democratic society. The State currently discriminates. That is not fair or just. We should be valuing and including all members of our society.

The State does not limit a New Zealand citizen in their ability to get a passport. If you are a New Zealand citizen, fill in the forms correctly, meet criteria that apply to all people, and pay the fee, you will get one.

The State does not limit a New Zealand citizen in their ability to get a driver’s licence. If you are a New Zealand citizen, fill in the forms correctly, meet criteria that all people must meet, and pay the fee, you will get one.

So why do we tolerate the State not giving New Zealand citizens a marriage licence, based purely on their sexual orientation and gender identity?

We know why many of the churches do not support this bill. It is fundamentally because their first principle is that homosexuals are sinners, and homosexuality is a sin. But in New Zealand there is clear and transparent separation of church and State.

It is about time that that separation was recognised, within the context of marriage in New Zealand and in the State’s role in the Marriage Act, through the issuing of a marriage licence.

Nō reira, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā tātou katoa.