A bill which will legalise civil unions for same-sex couples in New Zealand will be given a final vote in parliament on Friday.

If passed the legislation will be rushed into law as soon as next week.

While the government believes they have the 61 votes needed to get the bill through, a number of MPs have this week changed their position following public controversy over the issue, putting the new laws in doubt.

Meanwhile supporters of the bill have rejected calls for a national referendum on the issue, The New Zealand Herald reported.

New Zealand First MP Peter Brown, who will be voting against the legislation, says he is going to ask parliament to hold a referendum on the bill at the next election to find out whether there is a public mandate for it.

But government MPs David Benson-Pope and Tim Barnett have rejected the call, saying a referendum is not necessary. Benson-Pope argued the government had a legal responsibility to remove discrimination in the law.

Barnett said New Zealand’s relationship laws did discriminate because these offered no legal status for same-sex couples, and civil unions solved that problem.

If they are subject to a referendum then New Zealand’s whole human rights law is under threat, Mr Barnett said in a statement.

Four polls showed majority public backing for the proposals, he said.

An organisation called the Campaign Against the Civil Union and Relationships bills said the government had a clear pro-homosexual agenda aligned with and underlying a social engineering program, The Age reported.

It said the government seeks to destroy our Christian-based culture by making homosexual practices and lifestyle choice normative, mainstream and protected by legislation banning hate speech against it.

The bill passed its first reading 66-50 in June, but some who supported it then are having second thoughts.

Benson-Pope, who as associate justice minister is in charge of the bill, said the majority of MPs realised it was a human rights issue and about respecting the life choices of others.

I think we’re going to see a mark of around 65, 68, 70, somewhere around that, he told reporters.

The bill does not change the Marriage Act, which remains solely for men and women.

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