Thursday, December 09, 2004

A landmark day for freedom and equality

The Civil Union Bill has passed its third reading. While most of the legal legwork will be done by the companion omnibus bill, which has been delayed in select committee, it is still a landmark day for freedom and equality in New Zealand. Freedom because it marks a step away from the social conservative position that laws should reinforce (their) "moral values". And equality because it ends the obvious inequality of recognising different-sex, but not same-sex, partnerships. Instead, we are moving closer to a neutral state, which leaves decisions about family structure and relationships where they belong - with the people concerned - and does not try to influence them by stacking the legal deck.

There is still a long way to go, of course. We must ensure that same-sex couples enjoy full parental and adoption rights, just as different-sex couples do. And we must open up full marriage to people of all orientations, rather than leaving same-sex couples languishing in the half-way house. But that will come; the basic social acceptance gained by gays since the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform pretty much guarantees it.

Looking to the future, there is an obvious next step. In a few year's time, once people have seen that the recognition of same-sex relationships hasn't caused the end of the world, we can move forward. We should amend the marriage act to make it gender blind, allow free transfers between the two equivalent institutions, and let people decide for themselves how they want their relationships recognised.