Gay marriage vote a democratic failure - Craig

DANYA LEVY, KATE CHAPMAN AND PALOMA MIGONE
Last updated 14:18 30/08/2012

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Conservative Party leader Colin Craig says it appears MPs are voting against their constituents' views on the bill to legalise gay marriage.

The Definition of Marriage Amendment Bill, sponsored by Labour MP Louisa Wall, passed its first reading in Parliament last night by a convincing 80 votes to 40. Numbers were bolstered at the last minute after several National MPs offered initial support so it can now be considered by a select committee which will hear from the public.

There was a conscience vote on the bill which was supported by all political leaders except Winston Peters, who's NZ First party opposed the legislation as an eight-MP block.

"They are making their own minds up. I think that's a real problem. It's a failure of our democratic system," Craig said.

"They are voting just like they feel like, but they are not listening to the people. There is no way their vote reflects where New Zealanders stand in this issue.

"What we are seeing is that we have a group of MPs that are far too liberal for the people of this country."

Craig said he was confident the bill would not go through if it went to a referendum.

"According to independent research done so far, 43 per cent of people don't understand that this actually effects adoption as well.

"That does make quite a big difference on how people see the issue," he said.

Prime Minister John Key says Parliament has strongly endorsed equal rights with its initial support of a bill to legalise gay marriage but warns the debate will get "tougher and nastier".

Speaking from Rarotonga, where he is attending the Pacific Islands Forum, Key today said the "overwhelming result" was bigger than he expected and put the bill in a strong place to become law.

However he warned a number of MPs had voted to enable public debate on the issue and were likely to change their minds at subsequent second and third readings.

It will be six to 12 months before Parliament faces a final vote on the bill.

"My experience of these things is they get quite ferocious and they're emotional and both sides of the debate are likely to be engaging in some fairly heavy duty correspondence."

Key said he had encouraged his MPs to do what they believed was right. "I'm not looking at who's voting one way or another, I'm not judging them on it."

A vote breakdown by centre-right blogger David Farrar showed one gay MP voted against the bill and MPs who entered Parliament in the 1990s were the most opposed.

The lobby group Family First opposes the bill and said this morning the real debate on same sex marriage began now.

Spokesman Bob McCroskrie said there was "huge" pressure on MPs to support last night's vote.

"I think the politicians aren't ready for the conflict just yet of standing up and voting against it."

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Family First saw its role as giving politicians the "conviction and the courage" to retain the current definition of marriage.

"Only 20 MPs need to change their vote and it will be defeated. I think there are swing voters in Labour and National parties who are open to debate and willing to listen to both sides."

It was important the debate remained respectful and didn't become personal, he said.

Wall today acknowledged she had a big job ahead of her to get the bill passed into law.

The select committee process would enable scrutiny of "factually incorrect" suggestions such as a legal opinion distributed by Family First that said church ministers would be forced to marry same sex couples.

Pacific and ethnic MPs were likely to come under particular pressure, she said. "I'm willing to go to any of those Pacific and ethnic sector engagements. It will be about me trying to find leaders in the community where I can explain what my bill is about and reassure them that their values and beliefs wouldn't be compromised."

Wall said she was heartened by late support by previously undecided MPs. "Gerry Brownlee's vote was just outstanding."

- The Dominion Post

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