Currently New Zealand law interprets the Marriage Act 1955 as applying only to opposite-sex couples (see Quilter v Attorney-General (1998) 1 NZLR 523). While a move to amend the law to same-sex couples as well is unlikely to proceed this term (due to both bad memories of the s59 debate, and it being "only" 5 years since the Civil Union Act 2004 was passed, pressure is likely to grow after the 2011 or 2014 election. We should be ready for it by having a bill prepared.
Marriage Act 1955
The only places the gender of the participants is mentioned is in the schedule on forbidden marriages.
- The easiest change is to amend s3 of the Act to clarify that it applies to same sex as well as opposite sex couples. This in turn will require amending the schedule of forbidden marriages to make them gender neutral (this can easily be copied straight from the Civil Union Act)
- In addition, we should ensure that same-sex marriages conducted overseas are recognised in New Zealand (alternatively, this could be done as a seperate bill)
- No "transfer clause" is needed, as this is already covered by s18 Civil Union Act.
- Minor consequential amendments on gendered language should be made as well.
- Like Civil Unions, this is something that cannot afford to fail. We must pick our moment carefully. This may mean waiting to be sure.
- This will spur an unholy backlash from Christian bigots - which in turn will likely spur a counter-backlash from everyone else. The tone of politics will be septic for a year or two as a result.