The recent introduction of a bill to permit gay marriage brought to mind a much earlier change to marriage law.
More than 100 years ago Dr Samuel Hodgkinson, the MP for Riverton succeeded, after many attempts, to get Parliament to pass what became known as "the deceased wife's sister act".
A widower was not permitted to marry a sister to his late wife; nor could a widow marry a brother of her late husband. It seems that some of the thinking for this law was that husbands might be tempted to kill their wives in order to marry a sister-in-law.
During the parliamentary debate it was stated that a close relative could have more concern for the children of a brother or sister and several speakers pointed out that many Maori saw the deceased wife's sister as an appropriate course for the care of the children.
In fact, in the 1960s I knew of a case where this happened; the sister who was in a relationship with another woman was far from happy at the prospect of marrying her brother-in-law but obeyed her father's wishes.
Britain followed the law change some 20 years later.
G E HODGKINSON
- Waikato Times