Last week New Zealand passed into law the Marriage Equality Bill which gives people of all genders the right to be married. We are now one of 14 nations that have a similar law that includes Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, Sweden and this week France also. There are also parts of Brazil, Mexico, and the United States that allow same-sex couples to marry. It is in my opinion, one of the most significant Bills that Parliament has passed in a long time. We as a nation bravely passed laws to give women the vote in 1893 (the first country to do so), homosexual law reform in 1986 (the first in the Asia-Pacific to do so) and now the Marriage Equality Bill, again the first country in the Pacific basin to do so. I was immensely proud of Louisa Wall, the MP responsible for introducing the law into Parliament, her supporters on both sides of the House and the immense support of the public in getting this Bill passed.
But it isn’t just about giving two people the right to be married regardless of their gender. That in itself seems proper and right to me. Why should love and marriage be defined by one aspect of heterosexual society and not be afforded to everyone? I have a strong sense of justice and I abhor anything that smacks of discrimination – this was one of them. Some religions and churches in New Zealand were strident and in some cases bullying towards the MP’s who supported the Bill as were a lot of individuals in New Zealand society. The opposition was strong in some quarters and vicious. MP’s were warned of their journey into eternity in hell if they supported of Bill and as an MP, Maurice Williamson said, the person who warned him of such a fate obviously didn’t know about his degree in Physics and he was keen to point out that at the degree of fire that it would take to burn him, he would be dust and ashes within a few seconds so apparently eternity in hell wasn’t an option. Apparently the drought in New Zealand was also the responsibility of those that supported the Bill. God knows how the person made that leap of logic. It beggars belief.
Twenty years ago I cared for patients with AIDS at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney. I saw the discrimination, hatred and fear towards gay men. I heard terrible stories of them being thrown out of their apartments, fired from their jobs and worst of all, disowned by their families. I saw these ‘so called’ families turn up when someone had died to claim whatever little possessions that were left, completely shutting out the partners that had nursed their loved one through a dreadful disease and the lack of acknowledgement of their relationship by these ‘families’ even for those couples that had been together for decades.
Now while I don’t want to draw too many correlations between AIDS and marriage equality, because they are two very different constructs, I would however like to point out that gay men, women and transgender people in particular have been subject to discrimination for many decades, and have suffered at the hands of our society in what can only be described as appalling because they are outside of what is considered to be the ‘norm’. It took many years for society to slowly accept people with HIV, to show compassion and love and for families to support their son or daughter, no matter what. We have come a long way and although there is a ways to go, most of us can at least say that we now understand discriminating against our fellow human beings is wrong. Simple as that. Ignorance is no longer an acceptable reason to do so. We know better. At least I hope we do.
So for me the Marriage Equality Bill was another step towards decreasing discrimination, to understanding and acceptance that every human being, regardless of their gender, has the right to be married in the eyes of the law and have the same rights as everyone else in society – if they choose to do so. The sky hasn’t fallen in and won’t. As Maurice Williamson said, the sun will still shine each day, our kids will still give us grief, and life will go on. It will however, change for those that want to get married. For the better, and that’s as it should be.