AUSTRALIAN lawmakers are under increased pressure to re-evaluate their stance on gay marriage today after New Zealand became the first nation in the Asia-Pacific region to support marriage equality in a historic vote taken in yesterday’s Parliament.
The New Zealand Parliament voted 77 to 44 in favour of allowing same sex marriage after political leaders called for a conscience vote on the issue, giving MPs the ability to determine the matter based on their own personal ideology rather than party policy.
Although the bill was sponsored by Labour Party member Louisa Wall it was also supported by conservative Prime Minister John Key, indicating the campaign to legalise gay marriage was a bipartisan endeavour.
The public gallery of New Zealand’s Parliament was filled with people who had travelled from far and wide to witness the historical moment when New Zealand became the 13th country in the world to legalise gay marriage. Members of the general public and legislators alike broke into song as the bill passed through its final reading, launching into a rendition of traditional Maori love song Pokarekare Ana to celebrate the moment.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key said: “In my view, marriage is a very personal thing between two individuals. And, in the end, this is part of equality in modern-day New Zealand.”
New Zealand has allowed civil unions for same sex couples since 2005, with yesterday’s legalisation of gay marriage now allowing homosexual couples to adopt children and have their marriages recognised in other countries. The legislation will take effect in August. Hundreds of Australian citizens have already registered their intention to travel to New Zealand to be married.
National director of lobby group Australian Marriage Equality Rodney Croome said that 1000 people had signed a petition stating that they would travel to New Zealand to get married even though the union would not be recognised under current Australian legislation.
Croome said: “There’s this really big, pent-up demand for this in Australia. New Zealand is just a three-hour plane ride away, and many couples are going to go to New Zealand to marry. They are just so sick and tired of waiting for the government to act. I think it’s going to spark this big tourism boom.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard reaffirmed her stance against same sex marriage at a community cabinet meeting in Melbourne last night, saying that she had already allowed a conscience vote on the issue that had rejected gay marriage legislation. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott did not comment on New Zealand’s gay marriage legislation, however his office directed journalists to previous statements in which he stated his position against allowing same-sex marriage in Australia.
The move to legalise gay marriage in New Zealand was sparked after American President Barack Obama came out in support of legitimising same sex unions in May of last year. New Zealand’s Prime Minister Key declared that he was “not personally opposed” to gay marriage, which triggered MPs to draft the bill that was passed yesterday.
Former head of the Australian Medical Association Dr Kerryn Phelps, the first lesbian to be elected as head of the organisation, tweeted: “We now have the untenable situation where legal NZ marriages will be invalid in Aust. Time to recognise international s/s (same sex) marriages.”
Australian comedian Catherine Deveny tweeted: “Never thought I would say this in my life. I am jealous of New Zealand. Congrats on #samesame brothers and sisters across the ditch xxxxx”.
Same sex marriage is legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina and Denmark. It is expected that it will also become legal in Uruguay after lawmakers approved a bill that will soon be signed by the country’s president.