Would any of the politicians who opposed the marriage equality bill have voted differently if it had passed today? Greta Yeoman asked them.
Just over five years ago, New Zealand politicians voted 77-44 to legalise gay marriage, making this country the 13th in the world to do so. Of the 44 politicians who voted against the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 – which was a conscience vote – half of them are still in Parliament today. Of the 22 politicians still in Parliament who voted ‘no’ five years ago, 17 are National Party MPs, three are Labour Party representatives and two are from NZFirst.
National Party leader Simon Bridges said earlier this week that he would have voted differently now. “I would change my vote today. New Zealand has moved on and so have I.”
None of the three opposing Labour members responded to requests for comment, however Labour West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor (who, we acknowledge, didn’t receive the email we sent) did notably get into trouble in 2011 for saying the party’s list selection was run by unionists and a “gaggle of gays”, while his colleague, Māngere’s Aupito William Sio attended an anti-gay marriage protest in 2012. The protest, as reported on by the New Zealand Herald at the time, was also attended by National list MP Kanwaljit Bakshi.
Mr Bakshi respondly belatedly via email on Wednesday to say he was a “law-abiding citizen of New Zealand” who respected citizens who might want to get married under the law.
“In case a vote were to take place again, I will vote according to my beliefs and will continue to obey the laws of our country.’’
Mr Sio and National list MP Alfred Ngaro had also been two of four politicians who met members of conservative lobby group Family First on the steps of Parliament, when the group presented its 50,000-signature petition against the law change, in 2012. Mr Ngaro did not respond to requests for comment.
Rangitikei National MP Ian McKelvie said while he had voted against the law change in 2013, as he felt marriage was defined as a “contract between a man and a woman”, he would likely change his vote today. “I have no problem with the principle of equality and having seen the result would now change my vote as I don’t any longer think the definition is important and the world hasn’t ended.
“I think, if anything, the bill has had a very positive effect on society.’’
Hamilton West National MP Tim Macindoe said, however, that his opposition to the bill had been based on “the desire of many in our community to protect traditional Christian and other religions’ beliefs, customs and definition of marriage”.
“I think the issues were more complex than the simple yes/no answers you are seeking.”
He cited the French system, where all couples (gay or straight) are required to have a civil wedding ceremony, and then those who wish to (or are allowed to by the church denominations) could have a religious ceremony after.
“That way churches could protect their understanding of marriage as a religious institution that had been adopted by the state without any couple’s legal rights being denied.”
However, the Bill actually does enable all couples, gay or straight, to have a civil wedding, while most religious groups have remained exempt from holding gay marriage ceremonies if it conflicts with their beliefs.
Mr Macindoe said he recalled “arguing unsuccessfully” for the French idea during one debate, but then concluded by saying: “I have long since accepted the outcome of the change that was made and have no wish to revive the issue or comment further.”
His colleague, East Coast MP Anne Tolley also opposed the Bill, saying earlier this week that she had surveyed her electorate (“as I normally do for any conscience vote”) and while it had been “pretty close, the majority were against”.
“Notably a generational difference so I’m not sure if it would change,” she added.
Deputy prime minister and NZ First leader Winston Peters‘ press secretary said he would be unable to respond by the mid-Wednesday deadline, but his colleague Tracey Martin did share her thoughts. Ms Martin and her fellow party members all voted against the Bill at the time, due to wanting a referendum on the matter, and said earlier this week that she maintained that view.
“I voted for a referendum on this change to law. I don’t think we should be frightened of taking the public with us on issues like this one.”
National MPs Gerry Brownlee (Ilam), Tamaki’s Simo
Perhaps the biggest change since the 2013 vote is that most of these politicians are now in Opposition.