New Zealand Civil Union Bill
The Civil Union Bill allows lesbian and gays couples, as well as heterosexual couples, the ability to formalise their relationship in front of a celebrant
On 9 December 2004, at about 5.20pm NZST (0420 UT), the New Zealand Parliament passed into law the Civil Union Bill 2004. Upon receipt of the Royal Assent when the Governor General signs it within the next few days, it will become an Act of Parliament. The day that it comes into effect is the 30th of April 2005- by which time the related Relationships (Statutory References) Bill 2004 should also have been passed by the House (the newspaper report got the date wrong.

The Civil Union Bill allows lesbian and gays couples, as well as heterosexual couples, the ability to formalise their relationship in front of a celebrant, using whatever vows, statements or other words they wish to use (unlike the Marriage Act 1955 that requires words similar to "I AB take you CD to be my lawfully wedded wife/husband"). The form and ceremony used will be up to the couple.

The related Bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill is the legislation that gives power to Civil Unions, by granting them the same rights as marriage. Apart from the more liberal wording of the vow, the rights and responsibilities of a couple undergoing a Civil Union will be the same as those rights and responsibilities that are granted to a couple who marry.

The day started with a picnic by Civil Union supporters- organised by UniQ, the Victoria University of Wellington LGBT group (the person in the sun glasses in the picture on the Newspaper report is AJ Marsh, one of the UniQ co-ordinators. There were some opponents who were supposed to be having a silent vigil there as well- although they had some heated arguments with some of the supporters. Those who were holding the vigil tried to walk around the grounds holding their "Say No" signs, but didn't have too much luck, and they also had a couple of young guys from Schools Out- the LGBT youth support group that is for secondary school students- skipping along in front of them, who were holding "Say Yes" signs. We also had a sound system and everything, so there was a definite party atmosphere. Then those of us who could, made our way to the public gallery. It was so packed, you were often denied entry unless you had been invited by an MP. The opponents took up a block of 18 seats on one side of the gallery, with a few others scattered here and there. The supporters took up the rest, and easily drowned out the cries of "No" from those opposed when the result was read.

Afterwards, we had a celebration in the Grand Hall of Parliament, with drinks and nibbles, and some speeches from those who voted for the Bill, including Tim Barnett, who had organised a disparate group of us in 2000 to become the Campaign Committee. Clem Simich, one of the three members of the National Party who voted for the Bill, made a very moving, and very personal speech, saying how, immediately after the vote was read, he rang his family to let them know, and his son (the gay one, not the straight one) wanted Clem to pass on his thanks to all those involved in the campaign, and how his wife, daughter and other son wanted to express their thanks for all that everyone had done to support Clem in going against what was almost a block vote by the opposition National Party.

(Our Parliament has 8 parties sitting- the Labour Party forms the Government, in coalition with the Progressive Coalition Party, and (often shaky) support from United Future New Zealand, and supply and confidence support from the Greens. The Opposition consists of the National Party, ACT [Association of Consumers and Taxpayers], and New Zealand First. The Maori Party seems to sit outside the traditional Government/Opposition split. UF is a party with a heavy religious overtone, and they were opposed to the Bill as a party, with one member going on a fast for three weeks to "prevent the Bill passing"- the same member submitted in 1993 against the SOP that added sexual orientation to the Human Rights Bill as it made its way through the then Parliament. When he was elected to Parliament in 2002, he tried to claim he did not write the submission- which called for the quarantine of people affected by HIV- even though it was on his business letterhead and he had signed it as a personal submission from him. Most of us hope that UF will be a one term only party. They showed the most blatant bigotry and hatred of equal rights for LGBT people than any other party, and it is expected they will oppose the Gender Identity Bill before the House- a private members Bill sponsored by Georgina Beyer, the first transsexual MP).

After the celebrations at Parliament, some of us went on to a restaurant, the to Pound for more drinks. I don't, at this point, think I will be at work tomorrow.

Calum Bennachie
(Who probably had too many celebratory drinks)

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