News Editor Levi Joule reflects on the 10 year anniversary of the passage of the Civil Union Act in New Zealand and asks just why was the anniversary forgotten by both the gay and mainstream media? 

This week marked the 10 year anniversary of civil unions passing into law in New Zealand. It was an anniversary missed by many and perhaps that was a result of the controversy around the deranged West Auckland pastor Logan Robertson and his “I pray you commit suicide” email.

What ever the reason for the neglect, reporting of the anniversary was left to just Labour, the party responsible for the bill’s passage and express magazine. No other media, gay or straight picked up on it.


In light of Louisa Wall’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment bill passing last year, some view civil unions as redundant to a large degree.

That’s sad, because without civil unions, marriage equality might not have been achieved in 2013 as it was.

Speaking to Tim Barnett on Tuesday, he admitted that the 2004 act “didn’t give us full equality” at the time but says: “there wasn’t a community push for marriage equality, there was a community push for something to offer protection. At first there were calls for something that was different because marriage in many people’s lives had a bad connotation”

Furthermore, the political climate of 2004 did not allow for marriage equality to be passed, but as Tim Barnett also noted, times changed and less than nine years after civil unions passage, marriage equality was achieved in New Zealand.

A remarkable achievement really.

Much of the political discourse around civil unions in 2004 was homophobic and ugly. Who can forget the street march to parliament led by Brian Tamaki and the Destiny Church shouting, ”enough is enough” with the black armbands and Nazi arm salutes in the air as a protest to the proposed bill?

Notice how much of that was absent during the discussion on marriage equality.

Marriage equality was the final step, but most of the nation had largely accepted it as as a inevitable reality a long time before the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act was passed, the debate had been largely had and it started with civil unions in 2004.

Without civil unions, it’s hard to see the discourse around same sex couples changing in favour of more rights or recognition.

One only needs to look across the Tasman to the debate in Australia where there is no legal recognition for same sex relationships.  There have been fleeting opportunities over there to pass civil unions, yet the GLBT community have turned them up on the basis of it not being full equality. As a result, there is still nothing that recognises same sex relationships. No domestic partnerships, no civil unions and marriage equality remains a distant pipe dream.

The 2004 Civil Union Act did not achieve full equality for the GLBT community in New Zealand, that is true. But for many, civil unions were created and exist as a desirable alternative to marriage for both gay and straight couples alike. For others, it was an important first step in the fight for full marriage equality.

For those reasons alone, the 10 year anniversary of the 2004 Civil Union Act was one worth marking.

 Article | Levi Joule.