Civil unions in New Zealand

Civil unions in New Zealand

Civil unions in New Zealand were passed into law on 9 December 2004 when Parliament passed the Civil Union Act [ [ Civil Union Act 2004] ] to establish the institution of civil union for same-sex and heterosexual couples. The Act has been described as very similar to the Marriage Act with references to "marriage" replaced by "civil union". A companion bill, the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, was passed shortly thereafter on 15 March, 2005, to remove discriminatory provisions on the basis of relationship status from a range of statutes and regulations. As a result of these bills, all couples in New Zealand, whether married, in a civil union, or in a de facto partnership, now generally enjoy the same rights and undertake the same obligations. These rights extend to immigration, next-of-kin status, social welfare, matrimonial property and other areas. Non-married couples are not however permitted to adopt children, although people in non-marital relationships can adopt as individuals.


Both the Civil Union Bill and the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill were promoted as part of their Ministerial responsibilities by the Labour MPs and Ministers David Benson-Pope and Lianne Dalziel. The Civil Union Bill was treated as a conscience issue by most parties, including the largest parties on the left and right, and passed its third and final reading by 65 votes to 55. The table below shows the breakdown of votes by party for the final reading of the Bill. (see also: [ Searchable database of individual votes on bill] , and [ Relationships (Statutory References)] ).

During consideration of the bill, various amendments were proposed. These included making the issue subject to a binding referendum, (a motion moved by New Zealand First MP Ron Mark who voted for the first two readings of the Bill, but against in its final vote). Another was to replace it with a "civil relationships" bill that would allow any two people to register any personal relationship and to gain joint property rights (moved by National MP Richard Worth, a consistent opponent of the bill). These proposals were dismissed by supporters of the bill as delaying tactics rather than serious proposals and were defeated in Parliament by a block vote of Labour, the Greens, and the Progressives.

The Relationships (Statutory References) Bill was also treated as a conscience vote and passed by 76 votes to 44 votes. Civil Unions came into effect on April 26, 2005 and at least two couples had applied for licenses by 9:30 that morning.

Public opinion

Before passage, the New Zealand public narrowly supported the bill, with opinion polls indicating around 56 per cent in favour.Fact|date=August 2007 The bill was controversial in some quarters, attracting strong opposition from the evangelical Destiny Church and the Catholic Church in New Zealand. However, not all Christians were opposed to the Bill. Christians for Civil Unions played a role in the debates [cite web |title=Christians support Civil Unions Bill |publisher=Scoop |date=2004-06-16 |url=] along with other Christian groups including the Student Christian Movement. [cite web |url= |title=Student Christian Movement submission on the Civil Union bill]

In the build up to the vote, there were several instances of anti-gay and lesbian protests and rallies as a way of dissuading public favour. The most publicised rally was the 'Enough is Enough' march through central Wellington, terminating at Parliament, in August 2004. The march was organised by the Brian Tamaki-led Destiny Church and involved thousands of church members and supporters, many wearing black shirts, marching down Lambton Quay punching the air with their fists and chanting 'enough is enough'. Also present on this march were members of the Christian Heritage Party and white supremacist group National Front.

Other protest action saw a theology student cover the windows of David Benson-Pope's South Dunedin electoral office with posters denouncing the bill. These bore the message 'Civil Unions Is [sic] Not Gay Marriage. Yeah Right' in a parody of Tui beer advertisements. On the same occasion a jar of excrement labelled 'Civil Unions Bill' was placed outside the office. A member of Dunedin's gay community had earlier had excrement placed in his letter box accompanied by an abusive note.Fact|date=August 2007

Three months after the Civil Union Act came into effect, a Herald-DigiPoll survey revealed that the majority of people who expressed an opinion either way were happy with the legislation. When asked "whether they were happy or unhappy with the way the law allowing civil unions is working," 46% said they were happy, 35.7% were unhappy, and 18.1% were undecided or refused to comment. [cite web |url= |title=Majority happy with civil union, prostitution laws |date=2005-07-01 |publisher=NZ Herald]


At the end of June 2005, The Department of Internal Affairs said 74 couples had solemnised their relationship in a civil union. Of those, ten were heterosexual couples. By February 2006, the department said 362 couples had received civil unions - 145 male couples, 153 female couples, and 62 heterosexual couples.

See also

* Same-sex marriage in New Zealand
* Gay rights in New Zealand
* LGBT New Zealand
* Property (Relationships) Act


External links

* [ Civil Union Bill & Relationships (Statutory References) Bill]
* [ Parliamentary Counsel Office] - text of the Civil Union Act 2004
* [ Campaign for Civil Unions] - an organisation promoting civil unions;News articles
*cite news|url=|title=The Civil Unions Bill has been passed by Parliament|publisher=New Zealand Herald
*cite news|url=|title=Majority happy with civil union, prostitution laws|last=Berry|first=Ruth|publisher=New Zealand Herald

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