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Rights hope in same-sex marriage

Last updated 18:03 28/07/2012

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New Zealand is a "beacon to the rest of the world" in the fight to allow same sex couples to marry, says the founder of the marriage equality movement in the United States.

Speaking today at a panel discussion on the issue, Freedom to Marry president Evan Wolfson said he hoped New Zealand would become the 15th country in the world to allow marriage for same-sex couples.

Leaders in the debate for gay marriage rights said at the Victoria University panel discussion held at Te Papa, that now the issue was to be brought before parliament, those who supported it "had a responsibility" to make their views known to their MPs. 

Labour MP Louisa Wall's "Marriage Equality" members bill was drawn from the ballot on Thursday, placing it on the order paper to eventually be brought before parliament.

While that could take some time, Wall was confident it would get its first debate in the house by September. Its pull from the ballot box had already kick-started discussions from a number of different groups.

Hosted by the university's UniQ group, Wolfson, Wall and fellow Labour MP Charles Chauvel, along with St Andrew's on the Terrace Presbyterian reverend Margaret Mayman and UniQ president Matthew Ellison each spoke about their own experiences in dealing with discrimination due to their sexuality. 

Although United States Ambassador to New Zealand David Huebner was not able to speak on political matters, he facilitated the event.

Huebner was the first openly gay ambassador to be sworn in by the Obama administration and serves as a general council to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation organisation.

Wolfson, who is in the country on holiday with his husband Cheng He, said it was "wonderful to be here" for such a significant leap forward.

"Obviously systems in the United States are different and I can only speak on those and how we are achieving what we are there, but New Zealand has already got a head start in that about 66 per cent of New Zealanders already support equal marriage rights.

"And those who oppose have to remember it take no rights away from anyone. The only direction it takes us in is forward," he said.

Wolfson told the group of about 50 equal rights proponents that New Zealand now held the attention of gay rights advocates throughout the world.

"Today it's New Zealand that has the spotlight in the world, as we hope that New Zealand will become the next… country in the world to end the denial of marriage to same sex couples."

He said gay and lesbian couples wanted the freedom to marry for the same reasons heterosexual couples married.

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"We want the freedom to marry for reasons that are emotional, as well as economic. That are practical, as well as personal. That are social, as well as spiritual, and reasons that resonate in love as they do in law."

The Harvard educated attorney said when his home-state of New York ended the ban on same-sex marriages, he and his partner of 10 years were finally able to do what other couples did as a high point in their life.

"We were able to call our parents, bring them together to bring our families together and put out to the community our commitment to one another, and to have that commitment respected, acknowledged, supported and celebrated."

The bill in New Zealand is likely to be subject to a conscience vote but will have the support of Shearer and all Green Party MPs. Prime Minister John Key has previously indicated he would vote for a bill for gay marriage to at least be considered by a select committee.

Wall, who is the bill's leader, said the point of it was to put human rights at the forefront of discussion.

"It's not about friction or conflict, it's about having rational conversations and engagements with people and bringing back at the end of the day to a very personal level."

She said she had already received hate mail, but that was "okay". Both Wall and Chauvel were expecting "dirty tactics" to arise from some minority sectors.

"While I'm confident and hopeful about us having the numbers to get this legislation through, there will be bitter opposition to it from a minority, but a vocal and sometimes nasty minority," Chauvel said.

- Stuff

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