Friday, 26 April 2013

From April's sweet showers, marriage equality flowers

Marriage equality to become law…
... in New Zealand at least, following a vote last week by the House of Representatives there.

By a majority of 77 votes to 44, the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill 2013 was passed on its third reading.  It received Royal Asset on 19 April 2013.

New Zealand’s Department of Internal Affairs now has four months to make the changes necessary for marriage licensing.  Marriage equality will be effective there from 19 August 2013.

New Zealand will be the first country in Oceania, and the second Commonwealth country (after Canada) to allow same sex-couples to marry.

New Zealand has a well-established pedigree for affording universal rights to groups denied them, and long before others follow their lead.  See, for example, the issue of women’s suffrage.  The Electoral Bill granting New Zealand women the franchise was introduced in 1893.  The same year, Elizabeth Yates was elected Mayor of Onehunga, the first time a woman held such a post anywhere in the British Empire.

Barely 25 years later, along shuffled the UK, with the Representation of the People Act 1918.  That Act – introduced after decades of campaigning, the highlights of which included (amongst other outrages) the force-feeding of imprisoned suffragettes - gave women over 30 who met minimum property qualifications the vote.  Ten years later, the Representation of the People Act 1928 extended the voting franchise to all women over the age of 21, granting women the vote on the same terms as men.      

France's parliament on the vote

Closer to home, on Tuesday France's parliament also voted to enshrine marriage equality in law.  France’s lower house approved a marriage bill in a 331-to-225 final vote, following impassioned speeches by lawmakers for and against the legislation.

And earlier this month, the Uruguayan parliament approved a marriage equality measure.  That bill passed the lower house with a 92 / 71 vote majority.  The Uruguayan senate approved the bill in a 23-8 vote.  Now what is required is the signature of the President, Jose Majuica (who has already indicated he supports the measure) on the bill before it passes into legislation.

The response to the Uruguayan vote
Historically never especially fond of democracy, the conservative religious communities in the countries in question remained true to form.  In Uruguay, for example, the Roman Catholic Church described marriage equality as a harsh blow to the institutions of marriage and the family.  In France, a right-wing senator doomsayed that marriage equality would open the way to people being able to marry animals or objects (whatever gets you through the night, dear…)

But as the votes suggest, these dreary misanthropes are outnumbered by those who support marriage equality.  The New Zealand vote was greeted in parliament by cheers, applause and the singing of a traditional Maori love song "Pokarekare Ana” by some MPs and those in the public gallery (it’s worth checking out the video:  the genuineness of the reaction is really very beautiful and moving).
The scene in New Zealand's parliament after the vote

All of which makes the lumbering approach to marriage equality in England and Wales seem pretty dispiriting.  On 24 January 2013, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was introduced to the Commons.  On 5 February 2013, the bill passed its second reading in the House of Commons by 400 votes to 175.  The Bill was then examined in 13 sittings line-by-line, by Committee.  It completed its Committee Stage on 12 March 2013 and is due to have its report stage and third reading in the House of Commons on a day to be determined.  Whilst the majority of the public supports marriage equality (see the YouGov surveys from June 2012 and December 2012), I detect much hand-wringing yet to come to placate the vocal minority against, and particularly those who maintain their appointed deity has set his / her / its face against the concept.

Please don’t let it take the 25 plus years that British women had to wait after their New Zealand sisters got the vote for the universal human right of marriage equality to be afforded to same-sex couples here.

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