Title: Recognising Our Relationships Credit: Tim Barnett, MP Features Thursday 4th December 2003 - 12:00pm1070492400 Article: 135 Rights
Early in 2004, two pieces of legislation of immense important to queer communities will be introduced to Parliament. The details are still to be announced by the Government. Meanwhile Tim Barnett MP here gives an idea of what is planned. 1. What is the issue? There are two issues. People living in same-sex relationships are not recognised or protected by the state as a couple, and instead need a separately created legal contract (of dubious value) to create some level of protection. And different-sex couples who choose not to marry face the same challenges. This is a breach of our Human Rights Act, which guarantees no discrimination on the basis of family status or sexual orientation. 2. Why two bills? Because the solution has two distinct parts. One is to create a new relationship status, called a civil union. The second is to amend law that currently discriminates on the basis of relationship status. 3. Who will be covered? All different-sex and same-sex couples will be entitled to civil unionise. The exclusions (e.g. age, blood relationships) will be the same as for marriage. If civil unions had only been for same-sex couples, another human rights breach would have been created. 4. Why not just widen marriage? Because many in the queer communities would not want to marry, because that would not meet the needs of different-sex couples who currently choose not to marry and because too many politicians are not convinced that the time is ready or the arguments strong enough for such a move. 5. Will the Civil Union Bill be identical to the Marriage Act? No, since the Marriage Act was finalised over 50 years ago and contains some now-redundant concepts. The overall, practical effect of the law will be very similar. That means, for example, a two-year dissolution period if a relationship ends. 6. What is happening overseas? Countries with which New Zealand normally chooses to compare itself are generally moving to various forms of recognition of same-sex relationships. Some are doing it voluntarily, some are being driven by court decisions, often related to constitutional guarantees. 7. What will happen to state benefits, currently paid without recognising same-sex relationships? Because same-sex relationships are currently unrecognised in law, Work and Income do not recognise same-sex relationships in the payment of benefits and superannuation. This will end, where appropriate with a lead-in period, once civil unions are happening. 8. What process will it go through in Parliament? The two bills will go to a Select Committee, and the public will be able to comment on them. Then they will be amended (if appropriate) and go through three further stages involving all MPs. In total, this could take 6 months or more. Tim Barnett, MP - 4th December 2003    
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