He's been called many things over a long parliamentary career, but until now "gay icon" has never been one of them.
National MP Maurice Williamson's jocular but impassioned speech in favour of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill has won him praise around the world, and a YouTube clip of his performance has been watched close to 700,000 times.
Ellen DeGeneres has asked him to appear on her talk show, actor and British comedian Stephen Fry has tweeted that he wants to hug him, and one internet news site has called his defence of gay rights a "speech for the ages".
Most bewildering of all has been the New York Times' report that he is "one of New Zealand's only openly gay MPs".
The 52-year-old Pakuranga MP, who is married to Raewyn and has three adopted children, said: "I thought that was a bit surprising. It was certainly news to my wife."
The self-proclaimed libertarian said the speech was given off-the-cuff, and was intended to put in their place all the "bully-boys" who had voiced their aggressive opposition to gay marriage.
He told Parliament: "All we are doing with this bill is allowing two people who love each other to have that love recognised by way of marriage. We are not declaring nuclear war on a foreign state; we are not bringing a virus in that could wipe out our agriculture sector forever."
He went on to say: "I give a promise to those people who are opposed to this bill right now . . . The sun will still rise tomorrow, your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything, your mortgage will not grow, you will not have skin diseases or rashes or toads in your bed. The world will just carry on."
It also attracted the attention of DeGeneres, blogger Perez Hilton, and Irish singer Ronan Keating.
Fry told his five million followers on Twitter that Mr Williamson's stirring speech had restored his "faith in human nature", adding "I want to hug this man until he squeals".
When told of this accolade by The Dominion Post, Mr Williamson was incredulous. "You're kidding me . . . Good lord. It's a lot of pressure."
Mr Williamson, who has been an MP since 1987, may be surprised by the reaction to his speech, but those familiar with his oratory are not. Political blogger David Farrar said: "As his speech becomes a global sensation, it is a reminder of what a formidable speaker Maurice is."
The customs minister has turned down the invitation to appear on DeGeneres' talk show at her expense, because it goes against rules for ministers.
And he admits he's feeling the pressure to carry on being amusing. "What am I going to do next? I can't tweet to the several thousand people who have all joined my account, ‘On Friday night I'll be attending a Howick community board meeting'.
"It will be some months before I think of the next funny thing to say . . . But I'm hoping Stephen Fry doesn't get hold of me and squeeze the hell of me."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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