'Pink dollar' boost seen for NZ in gay marriages

Changing the law to allow gay marriage could create a bumper tourism industry as couples spend big while celebrating their legalised Kiwi weddings.

Labour MP Louisa Wall's marriage redefinition bill, plucked from the members' ballot last Thursday, will be up for debate at the end of the month.

Momentum appears to be building in Parliament to pass the bill, including early support from Prime Minister John Key and leaders of minority parties UnitedFuture, Maori and Mana.

If the law passes, the financial benefits to New Zealand could be considerable.

Hamilton-based Chris McKellar, a representative for Gay Tourism New Zealand, claimed New Zealand could reap the "pink dollar" by welcoming gay marriages.

"Gay tourism is worth around $150 to $160 million a year, at least. New Zealand's missing out."

New York last week celebrated the first anniversary of gay marriage, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg revealing same-sex marriages had pumped US$259m into the city's economy through ceremonies, venue hire, guest accommodation and dining.

Legalised gay marriage could generate a smaller but similar industry here, McKellar said.

"Because of the cheap flights across the ditch, it would be attractive [to gay Australians]."

In the seven years since civil union was legalised in New Zealand there have been 2069 same-sex civil unions. Almost one- fifth of those have involved couples from overseas. Australian census information last year showed more than 1300 gay couples had married offshore, often in Canada or Argentina.

Australian Marriage Equality deputy national convener Sharon Dane said New Zealand would become the destination of choice for gay couples wishing to tying the knot.

"New Zealand is going to be the most sensible option."

Piri Norris, 24, and Justin Elder, 28, Kiwis now living "indefinitely" in Australia, made history when they were joined in a civil union at Parliament in November last year.

Norris said the couple would consider coming back to New Zealand to marry. "It would be nice to actually be able to refer to each other as husbands as opposed to civil union partners, and to say that we are married as opposed to civil unionised.

"Civil union sounds very legalistic and mechanical. It's great to have our relationship legally recognised, but it's still degrading that there is a different name and status to our relationship. It's like we're not quite good enough to be married, and for no logical reason."

Stuart Wright, 32, and Iain Fletcher, 34, from Britain, joined together in civil union while holidaying in New Zealand in January this year.

"They don't allow even civil unions in Australia, so if you can pass that [law], as a country you're going to get a lot more people visiting," Wright said. "I suppose we [the gay community] are quite loyal when we find somewhere good to us."

Shayne Pedrocchi, 26, and Jayson Campbell, 23, from Perth, have been together for three years and would love the chance to marry in New Zealand.

'We've been discussing going over to New Zealand for a holiday but if we had the chance to do that [marry], we'd definitely do it," Pedrocchi said.

"We actually had planned to do it in Canada, but it turned out to be too expensive and no-one would have been able to come. New Zealand would definitely be the preferred option and the logical option. To us it would almost just be like we were doing it at home anyway."

Gay marriages and civil unions abroad are not recognised once couples return to Australia, but that's unlikely to put off gay tourists wanting to get married, said Rod Stringer, managing director of Gay and Lesbian Tourism Australia.

"I think it's more of a ceremonial thing. A lot of people like to go through the ceremony of it. It's a personal thing. [And] if eventually it became legal [in Australia], it would be a matter of just having it transferred." MICHAEL LAWS / Focus, page 11

Sunday Star Times