Opinion polls show strong public support for the idea of legislation allowing same-sex couples to marry. Indeed, the response in favour in a poll last year suggested the way for reform had been paved long before Louisa Wall introduced her Marriage Amendment Bill in August.
While this implies New Zealand has a liberal attitude on the issue, opposition is significant and strident. Supporters of reform say it is not acceptable in modern society for some couples to be treated differently from others. Opponents insist a civil union is as far as we need to go to accommodate gay couples; the institution of marriage was intended to produce children.
Now we should brace for a similar debate over proposals to update our laws to enable gay couples to adopt children. This time the issue has opened a schism between Labour and the Greens.
A Green Party bill promoted by Kevin Hague is the product of cross-party co-operation with National MP Nikki Kaye. It would make all adoptions open (except in special circumstances) and - among several aims - remove restrictions on who could adopt, enabling adoptive parents to be selected in the best interests of the child. Labour MP Jacinda Ardern pulled out of the cross-party group last year and drafted her own bill. Hers has been drawn from the member's ballot and looks likely to be given its first reading within the next month.
The Greens will not be supporting it, however, because of its cumbersome reform process: it requires the Law Commission to update a review it undertook 12 years ago, then to draft a further bill. This could take several years without any guarantee gay adoption would be legalised.
Whichever bill Parliament considers, it will incite the same objections from the same people who oppose same-sex marriage. Family First NZ has said it regards the proposed changes as flawed and unnecessary.
But the National Party regional conference in Auckland this year backed adoption for civil union partners, Prime Minister John Key has said he would give initial support to a bill should one come before Parliament, and a recent survey found strong support for same-sex couples being able to adopt children. Whether we get there through Ms Ardern's slow track or Mr Hague's more direct route, change looks inevitable.
- © Fairfax NZ News