OPINION: The private member's bill put forward by the Labour MP Louisa Wall designed to allow marriage between same-sex couples is a short one.
It has only six clauses, the most significant of which is the fourth.
It says: "The purpose of this act is to amend the principal act to clarify that a marriage is between two people regardless of their sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity."
As the explanatory note to the bill observes, it seeks to "clarify" the principal act, the Marriage Act 1955, because although couples, other than a man and a woman, have not been permitted to obtain marriage licences under that act, the act does not in fact define marriage and makes no reference to a marriage being between a man and a woman.
Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill would amend the act "to ensure that its provisions are not applied in a discriminatory manner" so allowing same-sex marriages.
Twenty-five years after the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform Act, which legalised homosexuality for males over 16, and eight years after the Civil Union Act, which permitted civil unions between same-sex couples, this is scarcely a major issue.
The last opinion poll on the matter, taken last year, showed nearly 55 per cent of those polled in favour of the proposal and less than two- fifths against. To many people it seems merely fair and reasonable, an incremental step that if anything will be beneficial and will certainly do no harm.
For some who style themselves social conservatives, however, it is a matter of burning urgency and they foresee all sorts of dire consequences if the bill is enacted. Some 20,000 submissions have been made to the select committee considering the bill, with some eye-catching ones from those opposed to it.
The former United Future member of Parliament Gordon Copeland, for instance, made a weird analogy with apartheid, saying allowing gays to marry was like calling Maori rugby players honorary whites.
Less offensive, but still deeply off- beam, Colin Craig, the leader of the fledgling Conservative Party, noting that a similar bill had been rejected by the Australian parliament, suggested that if the bill were passed here it would induce more New Zealanders to leave permanently for Australia.
Even more loopy has been the suggestion the bill could be a gateway to the legalising of bestiality.
The latest to emerge is the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Its submission to the committee says that the bill is "yet another erosion of basic morals" and will ultimately have a detrimental effect on crime at all levels.
This is just foolish. Since 2001, 11 countries as varied as Argentina, Canada and Denmark along with a number of United States states have legalised gay marriage with nothing like the consequences the trust alleges.
The opposition of these supposed conservatives to such a profoundly conservative institution as marriage is odd. People, in the true conservative view, are bound together by ties voluntarily made, and there are few ties more solemn and profound as the vow made in marriage.
As Theodore Olsen, solicitor-general to President George W Bush and no wild-eyed liberal, has said, same-sex marriage promotes the values that conservatives prize.
The crankiness of the arguments that have been trotted out against Wall's bill only demonstrate how desperate its opponents are to find any cogent reason to oppose it.
- The Press