A New Zealand Parliamentary Select Committee has given the thumbs up for same-sex marriage to be legalised in the country.
The committee said openly gay Labour MP Louisa Wall’s gay marriage bill should progress, but with an amendment that ensures no minister was obliged to marry someone against their own beliefs.
“The bill seeks to extend the legal right to marry to same-sex couples; it does not seek to interfere with people’s religious freedoms,” the report stated.
The committee received 21,533 submissions on the bill – 10,487 in favour and 8148 against.
“The passion with which submitters made their arguments to us was palpable,” the report read.
The bill is due for a second reading on March 13.
It easily passed its first reading in New Zealand’s Parliament with a 80 to 40 vote in August last year.
MPs were granted a conscience vote on the bill, which was drawn from Parliament’s members’ bill ballot in July 2012.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key had a proxy vote recorded in favour of the bill.
Polls suggest nearly two-thirds of New Zealanders support extending marriage rights to same-sex couples but church leaders stepped up their campaign against the plans late last year.
The New Zealand Christian Network asked members to write to the government in opposition of the law change and national director of the network, Glyn Carpenter, said it was “highly probable that this bill will not be good for New Zealand”.
“Marriage is already facing a number of challenges, and anyone with an ounce of common sense can see that families and society are weaker and poorer as a result,” Carpenter said.
“What politicians should be doing is looking at what needs to be done to strengthen marriage, not spending time debating bills whose main outcome would be to further undermine it.”
One church in Wellington has vowed to go against its own governing body if marriage equality is implemented and perform same-sex weddings.
The St Andrews on the Terrace Presbyterian Church released a statement in October 2012 saying it supported equal marriage despite the Presbyterian General Assembly’s announcement that it would not officiate same-sex wedding ceremonies.
“We are looking forward to the passing of the Marriage Amendment Bill which will mean that we can offer to perform and bless civil marriages for same-sex couples,” Reverend Dr Margaret Mayman said on behalf of the church.
“And we are relieved that the assembly left ministers with the freedom to make decisions about whom they will marry.
“In response to the Presbyterian General Assembly’s decision to oppose the Marriage Amendment Bill currently before parliament, the minister and community at St Andrew’s on The Terrace Presbyterian Church today restated their commitment to be an inclusive church, welcoming and including people of any sexual orientation or gender identity.”