Marriage equality stories: Tamati Coffey

WEDDING BELLS: Tamati Coffey, right, with his partner Tim Smith.
WEDDING BELLS: Tamati Coffey, right, with his partner Tim Smith.

TVNZ's Breakfast and New Zealand's got talent host Tamati Coffey offers the second opinion piece for's series covering New Zealanders and their thoughts on the marriage equality debate.

He has been openly supportive of Rainbow Youth initiatives, and tied the knot with his partner Tim Smith in December last year.

The first reading of a bill allowing gay marriage is expected on Wednesday night and appears to have enough support to pass.


After nine months of civil unioned bliss, I've learnt a few things, the biggest being, that I hate saying I'm civil unioned. It's awful. It's like a little dance that you have to do around the wording, to be factually and legally correct. It was created by politicians about 8 years ago and I get the impression it was the best they could do at the time. I wonder if, when they did it, it was a solution that would balance the concerns of the conservative, with the hopes of the liberal, and once society matured, hope that some young whipper snappers would come through and finish the job. If I'm right, then let me be one of those upstarts of the next generation.

When I came out at high school, times were changing. They had just announced that it was a crime to discriminate against gay people in New Zealand. Only a few years earlier, when I was at primary school, they passed a law saying gay guys could love other gay guys. When I was 24, the law evolved again saying that gay guys could legalise their relationships, with civil unions. The law has dictated our social norms and has such a huge say in how we operate our daily lives, but it also sets the tone for what we regard as normal, and not normal. So, nowadays, I forgive my parents' reaction, when I came out to them. They adhered to the lament of society at the time, that to be gay was wrong and as a gay guy, I would never have kids, or get married, and that I would end up, old, gay and alone. They were products of their upbringing. Despite their initial thoughts, I knew the world was changing. I figured, there were billions of people in this world - too many for me to end up alone. Besides, I feel part of the new enlightened generation that have grown up watching Ellen DeGeneres and Graham Norton on TV, and with Dame Edna on the stage, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert on the big screen. The law has been slowly changing with the times, and consequently so has the fortunes of the gay community.

When I participated in Dancing With the Stars in 2009, I'd announced my charity, Rainbow Youth, and it had been clear from the start. For me it was a risk. It was to be either going to be the nail in the coffin or a refreshing sign of the times. Weekly, I danced the best that I could, and surprisingly, the people of New Zealand kept voting me back again, to the point where after many hours of sweat, bruises and nerves, I found myself standing there holding the trophy. For me, it was huge. It was a big win for my charity and it was a triumph for the gay community that one of it's own could hold it against All Blacks and Olympians. Ultimately, for me it was confirmation that New Zealand was OK with the gays and I was never more proud to be a Kiwi. Rainbow Youth walked away with $260,000 and I was told that more people had voted for me than any other contestant in the competition since it started. I was elated then, and it still brings a smile to my face now.

The polls say that a majority of New Zealanders are in support of the Marriage Amendment Bill, but we need to make sure this bill goes right through. If it doesn't because of apathy, or because people are too afraid to speak out, we'll have missed a great opportunity to level the playing field and make history. We'll have missed the opportunity to tell our future generations of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered kids, that it's OK. Then, maybe gay kids will stop killing themselves. Maybe one day, we might be able to boast our first gay All Black. The effects of normalisation are heart-warming and while we've come a long way, marriage is the last bastion. Civil unions are nice, but marriage will make me equal with you. Let's all sit around the table and laugh about the trials and triumphs of our marriages. Not your marriage and my civil union.

Oh, and as for kids, I know that  I'll embark on that journey - as sure as I know I'm turning 33 next month. I've learnt way too much to not pass it on. Whether its through adoption, or surrogacy, I want the option. As I say, I pay my taxes, I contribute to the economy, I abide by the law, I should have the option like every other member of society. If Tamati Jnr has two talented, educated, worldly dads - that's a great thing.

You've got nothing to fear from the Marriage Amendment Bill. I will support it every step of the way. You should too.



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