Young gay New Zealanders say marriage equality could lead to a reduction in youth suicides.
Three young homosexual men made an impassioned plea for change to a select committee this morning, speaking about the stigma of growing up gay.
Several submitters said gay teenagers disproportionately committed suicide in New Zealand, which overall has a high youth suicide rate.
Lawyer Georgina Rood, speaking in support of gay marriage, cited one study showing about one in five lesbian, gay or bisexual teenagers had attempted suicide.
Richard Lee said growing up homosexual in New Zealand was incredibly difficult, with teenagers feeling like they were ''one step away from paedophilia and incest''.
Legalising gay marriage would send a message to young people that their sexual preference - whatever it was - was accepted by society.
''If people are growing up know this then those barriers are removed ... that will make a huge difference.''
One young man told the committee he had not told his father he was homosexual, even though he was an active and confident person in other parts of his life.
''I don't want to break his heart.''
Legalising homosexual marriage would make it easier for other young homosexuals to front up to their families, he said.
Veteran gay rights activist and counsellor Bill Logan said he often spoke to gay teenagers who were considering suicide.
In the past year he has dealt with four teenagers who were kicked out of home by parents who were trying to help them ''get over their gayness''.
''The denial of equal rights lie in the background here, as parents are encouraged to see non-heterosexual as properly excluded from the normal institutions of society.''
Labour MP Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill has prompted fierce debate, with the Government receiving more than 20,000 submissions.
Opponents have argued marriage is between a man and woman and expressed fears the law change could force priests to marry gay couples.
Some have said it is a slippery slope towards legalising incest and bigamy, with Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust even suggesting it could led to an increase in crime.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told the committee this morning that marriage was about procreation; which was only possible between a man and a woman.
MPs have repeatedly stressed the bill would not oblige priests to marry anyone against their will.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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