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Sam Humphrey 355B The Terrace Wellington Central 6011

Submission to the Government Administration Committee Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill 25 October 2012

Introduction 1. 2. This submission is made in my personal capacity. I submit in support of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill (the Bill).

Why I support the Bill: legal and public policy reasons 3. I support the Bill for many reasons. Some of the most important are: The Marriage Act 1955 currently discriminates against same-sex couples by prohibiting them from obtaining marriage licences given their sex and sexual orientation. In this respect, Quilter v Attorney-General1 was wrongly decided. While any individual can marry, in reality, people do not marry as individuals. They do so as couples. Under the Marriage Act 1955, gay and lesbian couples are excluded from the definition of marriage. While the legal definition of discrimination focuses on treating an individual differently from a comparator group,2 it is submitted that to focus on a gay or lesbian individuals present ability to marry in this context is sophistry, and is inconsistent with the Supreme Courts recent direction in McAlister to interpret discrimination broadly.3 This State-sponsored discrimination is not reasonably justifiable in a free and democratic society. If the purpose of civil marriage is to solemnise loving, committed, enduring relationships between two people and in my view, it is then the sex and sexual orientation of applicants for a marriage licence should not matter. There is no material difference between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. At their core, both are about love. The exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage is not somehow made acceptable by the existence of civil unions. Civil unions are not an acceptable substitute for marriage and should be cast aside. There is no substitute for marriage. Marriage is a unique institution. It and it alone is the social terminology we use to describe the most beautiful, most loving and most

1 2

Quilter v Attorney-General [1998] 1 NZLR 523 (CA). See generally Air New Zealand v McAlister [2009] NZSC 78, [2010] 1 NZLR 153. 3 At [51].

committed of relationships. No matter what those who oppose the Bill might say, civil unions do not carry the same weight in our public discourse. The language is different. It is emotionless. Lesser. Fairytales dont end with civil unions. A gay man does not get down on one knee and ask to civil union his partner. It is not justifiable to deny same-sex couples the right to use (or perhaps more importantly, the right to aspire to use) the language of marriage and all the positive social recognition and reinforcement that that brings. Correcting this legal discrimination will have many positive spillover effects in terms of public policy but will harm no one. Such spillover effects include: o Stronger families. As other submissions in support show, those who are married lead longer, happier lives. The proposed Bill would also simplify parenting arrangements for same-sex couples who want to adopt as a couple. Besides correcting an absurd legal position (the current law, by permitting gay or lesbian New Zealanders to adopt as individuals but not as couples, appears to presume that by deciding to commit to one another, gay people *magically* become unsuitable to raise children), this change would also provide certainty and stability for those children affected. Finally, the social celebration of marriage brings families both nuclear and extended together. This is a great thing. Public reinforcement of normality of diversity of sexual orientation. Perhaps most importantly of all, passing this Bill ending this Statesponsored discrimination would send a signal to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) people across New Zealand, especially youth, that they are valued as equal members of society and that their sexual orientation is every bit as healthy and natural and normal as that of their heterosexual friends. This is hugely important, given the elevated suicide rate for GLBT youth (set against a New Zealand rate that is already the highest in the OECD). Same-sex marriage harms no one. The most common allegation of detriment is that this Bill would constrain the exercise of freedom of religion in New Zealand. That is simply not true. The Human Rights Commission has publically affirmed that, on its reading of the present law, marriage celebrants would be free to refuse to marry same-sex couples and would not be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1993 for doing so.4 This is not its own decree; it is based on its reading of the Marriage Act 1955, the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 and the Human Rights Act 1993.


I dont want to say much more about these reasons for supporting same-sex marriage. I know that many other submissions make the same points in much more

Human Rights Commission Balancing Rights: Freedom of Religion and Freedom from Discrimination, Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill < http://www.hrc.co.nz/humanrights-environment/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity/balancing-rights-marriage-definition-ofmarriage-amendment-bill>, relying on Marriage Act 1955, s 29.

comprehensive detail and I commend those submissions to you. All I want to do in the remainder of my submission is to explain why same-sex marriage is particularly important to me personally. 5. I am keen to speak to my submission in this regard if required.

Why same-sex marriage is important to me personally 6. 7. There are two reasons why I am personally passionate about seeing this Bill pass. The first relates to my own personal background. Im gay myself. Im currently 23, but have only really been out since I was 19. Before coming out advance clich warning I was a completely different person. My high school years were marked by long periods of depression and loneliness. I had few friends. I was scared that people would find out about who I was, and so did my best to ensure that no one did. For whatever reason, I just couldnt see how it was possible to be openly gay and yet still live a normal life so I didnt live much of one at all. Of course, that reaction is incomprehensible to me now. In hindsight, it may have been that coming out while at school wouldnt have made a shred of difference to what anyone would have thought of me, but that was not how I perceived it. It was all about just getting through. I want this Bill to pass so that those kiwi teenagers who find themselves in the position I was once in nervous, uncertain, beginning to understand their sexuality might decide to take the path I didnt, and be open about who they are right from the beginning. I often think back on all the opportunities I missed due to my irrational suppression of my sexuality (and as a consequence, my personality). I missed out on an essential part of growing up. I wouldnt want that for anyone. I also strongly support same-sex marriage because I love my gay friends and family members, and want them to be happy. I know many gay people who, one day, would love to be able to get married. They are awesome people and good citizens. They work hard. They contribute to society. They pay their taxes. They have the legal right to vote, to fight in our armed forces, to own a company, to adopt a child (as an individual, of course...) and yet they cannot use the language of marriage to describe their relationship with the person they love the most.




Conclusion 11. It must be so rare that a Bill comes before Parliament that has the potential to do so much good, to improve the lives of so many and yet cause harm to no one. That is exactly what this Bill does. I give this Bill my full support.