The Marriage Amendment Bill, passed by Parliament on April 17 (with 77 votes in favour and 44 against), has not only proved that people should move with the times but also reinforced the fact that democratic process is truly embedded in our political and social fabric, with freedom of expression assured to all.
The following paragraphs summarise the mood of the communities, based on the opinions expressed to us and to others over the past few months.
Devout Catholics and Muslims were vociferous in their opposition, stating that none of their marriage celebrants should be forced to conduct or solemnise marriages between couples of the same sex, while a majority of Hindus, while privately expressing their aversion, remained passive in the public domain.
It is a pity that those who oppose same-sex marriage as immoral and acceptable, including many of our politicians have been silent to the sufferings of an increasing number of people (mainly women) who are in marriage as husband and wife. There are cases of women being victimised by husbands and in-laws, abusing them physically, orally and sexually, demand dowry, making them work outside and inside the house for long hours and worst of all, treating them with contempt.
Protagonists of the Bill say that while none of these is legal or moral, no one seems to have led a campaign against the perpetrators, save for rendering lip service.
“Marriage Amendment Bill, sponsored by Labour MP Louisa Wall, would have been picked up from the hat sometime or the other but in a way it was fortunate that it was taken, discussed and delivered within a timeframe when the society is just beginning to accept certain realities. It was also an opportune time because New Zealand prides itself of being an equitable country, with no favouritism shown to anyone based on their colour or creed,” they said.
However, gender equality is still a matter of debate. This includes according women equal opportunities in their corporate and professional career and allowing couples of the same sex to live together and adopt children.
The British Parliament passed into law in February allowing same-sex marriages in the United Kingdom, while the debate continues to rage in the US.
Peter Baker, a White House Correspondent for the New York Times explored the irony of the accelerating acceptance of same-sex marriage in America.
“Gay rights advocates may become a victim of their own political success,” he said.
With nine states and the District of Columbia now permitting same-sex unions, nationwide popular opinion swinging in favour of marriage equality and more and more political figures (even some conservative legislators) withdrawing or muting their opposition, gay-rights lobby groups have achieved more than they could have possibly dreamt in the past decade.
A Republican senator who recently changed his stance on gay marriage, Rob Portman, ascribed his conversion to learning that his own son is gay. Announcing her own change of mind, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talked of her many gay friends and colleagues.
There appeared to a swing in the other direction, Democratic Senator admitted, “My children have a hard time understanding why this is even controversial.”
Opinion polls in the US have tracked a surge in public support for such unions over the past decade, to 58% in one poll. Pollsters from Langer Research Associates note that this shift is matched by a sharp rise in the number of Americans who say that homosexuality is just how some people are, rather than a choice.
That advance in compassion and understanding cannot be separated from the growing visibility of gay celebrities, friends and neighbours.