The gay MP who initiated New Zealand’s civil union laws, Tim Barnett, met with politicians in Canberra this week to discuss justice and human rights issues.

Barnett, the Labour member for Christchurch Central and chair of New Zealand’s Justice and Electoral Committee, led a delegation of Kiwi MPs in meetings with their Australian counterparts.

Civil unions were not discussed, however, because with the current political environment there wasn’t much interest, Barnett said.

New Zealand’s civil union laws give same-sex couples the same legal rights as married straight couples, except in relation to adoption law which is currently going through a separate reform process.

It is the only country outside Europe in which the federal government has legally recognised couples in such a way.

Barnett told the Star there hadn’t been a great deal of opposition to civil unions from the New Zealand public, partly because the country is quite relaxed about the issue of marriage.

Most couples there are married by celebrants instead of religious figures and churches have never had a massive influence over the development of marriage, he said.

Prime Minister Helen Clark supported the laws from the beginning after Barnett first suggested them to her four years ago.

The final civil union model was developed in consultation with the LGBT community. Out of around 360 groups and individuals who participated, only around four said they wanted marriage.

The key message we got was that access to marriage wasn’t the important thing, but access to the same rights was, and that an institution open to straight and same-sex couples was good, Barnett said.

Of submissions received about the bills there were around 6,500 against and about 500 in favour, Barnett said. When we analysed the 6,500 we found there was the same line of argument in all of them, which was the same line of argument used against homosexual law reform several years before.

Polls showed the public support for civil unions was about 60 percent, but among young people support was about 80 percent. So it was very much a young person’s campaign, he said.

Barnett will discuss civil unions at a NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby community forum on 18 June.

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