By Irene Morse
Yesterday New Zealand became the 13th country in the world (and the first country in the Asia-Pacific region) to legalize gay marriage for its citizens. The legislation approving marriage equality passed in New Zealand’s parliament by a vote of 77 to 44, prompting embarrassment in nearby Australia, which has failed to pass similar legislation in spite of widespread popular support. After the vote concluded, the body of parliament began singing an old Maori love song called “Pokarekare Ana” in celebration of the event.
In the 24 hours after the vote, a video of New Zealand MP Maurice Williamson giving a humorous and touching speech on the issue went viral online and, and the time this blog was published, has received over 250,000 views. In the video Williamson jokes about the concerns he has heard people voice about gay marriage and emphasizes the fact that gay marriage does not impact the majority of New Zealanders, whose lives will continue as usual. At one point Williamson describes an interaction he had with a skeptical Catholic priest:
“I also had a Catholic priest tell me I was supporting an unnatural act. I found that quite interesting coming from someone who has taken an oath of celibacy for his whole life.”
And he continued:
“All we are doing with this bill is allowing two people who love each other to have that love recognized by way of marriage. We are not declaring nuclear war on a foreign state; we are not bringing a virus in that could wipe out our agriculture sector forever.”
Other countries which have successfully legalized same-sex marriage include the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Canada, South Africa, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, Denmark and, most recently, Uruguay. The French National Assembly is in the process of approving gay marriage legislation, but is facing staunch opposition in the form of popular protests by religious groups, which are becoming increasingly violent. The UK is also well on its way to approving same-sex marriage, pending a vote in the House of Lords.
New Zealand’s legislation comes in the wake of widespread global efforts to secure rights for LGBT individuals. This includes countries from the larger Asia-Pacific region such as Nepal, where the UN Human Rights Council will meet this summer. On Monday U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon spoke in favor of LGBT rights as part of the International Conference on Human Rights, Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in Oslo. In his video speech Ki-Moon said:
“I respect culture, tradition, and religion – but they can never justify the denial of basic rights. My promise to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members of the human family is this: I am with you.”