Gay couples 'excited, nervous' about bill

MARC GREENHILL, ANNA TURNER AND KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 21:41 17/04/2013
Renee Billingsley
DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

WAITING: Christchurch women Renee Billingsley, AJ Hammond, Jasmin Evans, Sharee Mare, Tracy Fox and Jackie Sullivan hope to marry their respective partners.

Monet MacDonald
PLANNING AHEAD: Engaged Christchurch couple Monet MacDonald, 26, and Shawna-Lea Funnell, 21, are planning their wedding.

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The bill to legalise gay marriage has passed in Parliament tonight.

MPs and those in the public gallery broke into applause and cheered as it was announced the vote passed with 77 votes to 44. They then broke into song.

MPs from both sides of the House lined up to hug the bill's sponsor, Louisa Wall. She, National MP Tau Henare and Green MP Kevin Hague were presented with flowers.

Those opposed to the bill quietly left the public gallery.

Earlier the House erupted into applause after Christchurch Green MP Mojo Mathers told the house how her daughter went to her first formal with her girlfriend last year.

"Like countless other young woman she hopes for love, marriage, children and a house with a white picket fence," said Mathers. 

"All of those options are available to her older sister.

"To see them have equal rights before the law is very important to me."

In Christchurch, a large crowd braved cold conditions at the Pegasus Arms Tavern to celebrate the final reading of the Marriage Amendment Bill at the Love is Love concert.

Rain forced the concert, headlined by Christchurch musician Anika Moa, to be moved from the outdoor Pallet Pavilion but has not dampened spirits.

Coverage of the vote enabling same-sex couple to marry was screened live on the tavern's large-screen televisions.

Moa, who came out as a lesbian in 2007 and has been in a civil union with Australian burlesque dancer Azaria Universe since 2010, told The Press she was ''proud to be part of this historic event''.

''I'm just stoked that people like me can finally just get married if we want to.''

Speaking earlier in the evening she said she had ''every amount of faith'' the Bill would pass.

''I think great it's happening. I'm in a civil union and I consider myself married anyway, but a lot of people want to be married properly,'' Moa said.

Rita Langley, who attended the Love is Love event with friends, hoped the Bill's passing would end the media hype around the debate.

Same-sex marriage was the ''final step'' after the success of the Civil Union Bill.

''After this, it should be all equal and the [debate] can stop. We can forget about it and go with the attitude that most younger people have now, which is why should it be an issue?'' she said.

OPPONENTS INCREASINGLY UNREASONABLE

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows caused a brief flurry of excitement after saying he was for equality.

However, he later clarified that he was still voting against the bill.

But he said he had become more open to gay couples since becoming an MP.

National MP Jonathan Young said he expected the vote to pass despite his voting against it.

"I believe our society is probably more divided than this House is on this issue."
Everybody wanted to celebrate their relationship, he said.
The debate was not about love because love could not be legislated against, he said.
"The human heart was to random and too romantic for that.
"Essentially the value of society that this marriage upholds is that you become my one and only."

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Several people in the public gallery clapped loudly for him, including a couple who had been holding their hands up in prayer throughout the debate.

Labour MP Maryan Street said her job "rocked" because she could be here today to "do some good".

Street said her own daughter was born to two mothers and two fathers.

"She deserves a world where her family is as accepted as anybody else's."

On the other side of the house, though on the same side of the debate, National MP Maurice Williamson said years in Parliament taught him to ignore the fire and brimstone accusations.

"We are really struggling to understand what the 'gay onslaught' will look like'."

All this bill did was allow to people who loved each other to have that recognised, he said.

"And I can't see what's wrong with that for love nor money."

ACT Party leader John Banks said all New Zealanders should be free to pursue their own happiness.

"In making this decision I had to ask myself, will New Zealanders have more freedom as a result of this bill? Yes."
Maori Party Whip Te Ururoa Flavell ran out of time, but recounted a Maori legend of a relationship between two men from Maori folklore.
Too many young people were living in fear of discrimination, he said. 
Opponents of the gay marriage bill had become increasingly unreasonable as the debate wore on, Green MP Kevin Hague told Parliament tonight.

During the final debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill,  Hague, a staunch supporter of the bill, recalled that when he got together with his partner, nearly 29 years ago, it was illegal for them to have sex or show affection.

"With every new reform the same group uses the same strategy, raising fears of terrible consequences, which always fail to materialise."

But their fears will not be realised, Hague said.

"The consequences of this Bill will be that same sex couples will marry, transgendered people will no longer have to divorce, prejudice and violence will be undermined, the world will be a better place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered New Zealanders and no one at all will be any worse off."

Youth Affairs Minister Nikki Kaye said it was time for this legislation to pass.

NZ First leader Winston Peters gave the first speech of the evening opposing gay marriage.

Peters said there had been a year-long debate on gay marriage and no one was any the wiser. His party is voting against the bill because they wanted a referendum to decide on the matter.

"Some claim there is a huge ground swell for change, well is that so, and if so, how do we know that it's true?

"The question is what do the public think? 

"Don't say you weren't warned."

National backbencher Tau Henare was met with rousing applause when he started in criticising Peters.

"Who decides if it should be a referendum or not? Him? I hope not Mr Speaker. Because we'd still be in the 1980s.

"My message to [same-sex couples] is welcome to the mainstream."

But It was Labour MP Louisa Wall, sponsor of the bill, who kick started the debate with an emotional plea. 

"In our society the meaning of marriage is universal - it's a declaration of love and commitment to a special person," Wall told Parliament.

Marriage had been used a form of oppression through the refusal of interracial weddings, and by removing a woman's rights, she said.

"This is not about Church teachings or philosophy. It never has been.

"It's about the State excluding people from the institution of marriage because of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity."

She read an email she was sent by a member of the public - a mother who could only adopt her 13-year-old daughter if the teen legally terminated her relationship with her other, terminally ill, mother.

"If your bill had been law when my partner was still alive then we could have married and our daughter would have both her parents recorded as such," the woman wrote.

Wall said nothing would make her prouder than the passing of the bill.

Her speech was greeted with a standing ovation.

National backbencher Jami-Lee Ross said he was voting for freedom so people could marry those they loved.

Labour MP Grant Robertson said weddings could make a dent in the bank balance, but they were momentous occasions.

Same-sex couples and their parents deserved to have the experience, he said.

"When this bill passes it will be a victory for families."

MORE THAN POLITICS FOR CHRISTCHURCH COUPLES

For Monet MacDonald and fiancee Shawna-Lea Funnell, the decision is about more than just politics - it's about their right to marry each other.

The Christchurch couple's plans to wed next November hinge on the bill's success.

MacDonald said she was "feeling confident" ahead of the reading.

"I am nervous but I'm also excited. We will be watching in anticipation, but I am pretty sure it will pass. It has had a lot of positive support," she said.

The couple still planned to have a civil union if the bill does not pass, but being able to get married would mean more to the couple.

"My parents and grandparents are all still together and found their 'one'. I wanted to get married for all the right reasons and want to be with the person I can't imagine not being with, and that's Shawna," MacDonald said.

"At the end of the day, it is just a piece of paper. It is a huge move for equality, but we still love each other and will have our ceremony no matter what."

However, if the bill passed, MacDonald said, they would have "more certainty" over their wedding plans.

The pair, who have been together for three years and got engaged on New Year's Eve, both wear engagement rings and want a wedding "with all the traditional elements".

"I think if it passes we will get more excited about our ceremony and actually planning it", MacDonald said.

"Who knows, we may even decide to get married in a church."

Renee Billingsley, 26, and her fiancee, Tracy Fox, 42, plan to marry on Valentines Day in 2015 if the marriage bill becomes law.

Billingsley said she was feeling "excited and nervous" today.

"Today is the day we change history. The journey has been a long one for the lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community in New Zealand," she said.

"We have now had the civil union and tonight I am hoping for an even bigger step to pass."

Billingsley planned to watch the reading at the Pegasus Arms, along with a group of about 200 people.

"If the bill passes, I'm going to be stoked and relieved. It's a changing day in history and I get to be a part of it,'' she said.

"I have this overwhelming feeling that at least in the future people in my situation aren't going to have to even think of the things I have to question to myself."

Many Christchurch churches have already identified themselves as ''gay affirming'' and willing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Christchurch Metropolitan Community Church spiritual leader Marion Wilson said they ''firmly believe that God accepts gays the way they are and we will help affirm that relationship in law".

The church had received one booking for a same-sex couple to wed, but it had an "open date".

However, spiritual leader Neil Hellewell believed people were waiting to see if the bill passed and, if so, when the legislation would come into force.

''I am personally unsure if it will release a flood of people wanting to marry, but there may be a few wanting to transition from a civil union to a marriage,'' he said.

St Ninian's Presbyterian minister Rob Ferguson said his parish had not had many inquiries about marriage ceremonies.

"My guess is that there won't actually be a rush in the immediate time following the passing of the bill," he said.

"Like all couples, folk I think will want to take their time and make their wedding plans with thought and a sense of occasion, rather that charging in right now because they can. But, then again, I've been wrong before."

- The Press

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