Last week the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill passed its final reading, 77 votes to 44, making New Zealand the 13th country in the world to legalise same-sex (and trans*) marriage.
The bill, which comes into effect in August, not only allows same-sex and trans* couples to marry, but also allows both people in a gay or trans* relationship to be recognised as parents of an adopted child.
It’s wonderful that even with our current more conservative government, New Zealand still chooses to lead the way in terms of equality and social reform. The flood of celebrations and support across social media, from Kiwis as well as the rest of the world, has been particularly special. It made a rather nice change from the diatribe of religious conservatives that had been campaigning against the bill for the last few months.
The arguments against gay marriage, some of the more reasonable ones at least, seem to be summed up as this: “Marriage is a Christian institution. God/The Bible says homosexuality is wrong; therefore we shouldn’t allow gay people to get married.”
This argument has always struck me as particularly unusual on two fronts. For one, not everyone is Christian. So I’m not really sure why, with the huge diversity of religions out there, one seems to think that they get to tell everyone else what to do, based on what their God says. That has never been the case in our secular, civil society. Particularly when there are huge arguments within Christianity about what it is exactly that God says about same-sex relationships.
And two, non-Christians get married all the time. Hindus get married, Buddhists get married, and even some atheists choose to take their vows. Sometimes people have ceremonies without mentioning God at all. Because although marriage is a religious institution, it is also a social and legal one.
The definition of marriage, like the definition of most social constructs, has changed over time. These days people marry for all sorts of reasons: love, security, finances, to raise children, to join families. Not that you can’t do these things without a marriage of course, but the point is that the reasons people get married encompass so much more than religion.
I always used to quip: if you don’t believe in gay marriage, then don’t have one. The Marriage Amendment bill does not force ministers who do not believe in same-sex marriage to perform wedding ceremonies for gay couples (and to be honest, why would you go to one to marry you?) Religious freedom is not being impacted by this law passing. Gay and trans* couples getting married will in no way affect you, unless you’re a part of one of those couples.
Rather, the Marriage Amendment Bill allows gay and trans* folk the same right to choose to marry, or not, that the rest of us have. Some people fear change. The rest of us usually call it progress.