Gay marriage is an issue for “a small group of New Zealanders” and the Government has not made it a priority because of the tough economic times, Prime Minister John Key says.
The issue has flared since US President Barack Obama backed gay marriage last week.
Both Key and Labour leader David Shearer have indicated they would not stand in the way of moves to allow gay marriage in New Zealand.
Key today indicated he would be “more than happy” to vote for the first reading of a bill allowing gay marriage.
However, no such bill has yet been entered in to the member’s ballot. Once in the ballot, it would have to be drawn before it could be debated.
Key today indicated the Government had no intention of pushing the idea.
“It’s not my number one issue, that’s absolutely for sure,” he said.
The previous Labour-led Government had backed “a lot” of conscience issues but his Government had not, which was a reflection of the “difficult economic times,” Key said.
“We need to use our precious time in Parliament really to resolve those issues. We accept this is an issue for a small group of New Zealanders.”
Recent Parliamentary conscience votes, including on legislation introducing civil unions, prostitution law reform and the so-called “anti-smacking” bill were all introduced by individual MPs, not the Government. Parliament sets aside one day every second sitting week to debate such measures.
Labour MP Louisa Wall said she was drafting a private members’ bill which would define marriage and enable same sex couples to wed.
The bill had not been discussed by Labour’s caucus but Wall said she hoped to be able to put it in the ballot next week.
Marriage equality and adoption equality were critical priorities for the gay community and her bill would provide both, she said.
“There isn’t a definition of marriage in our Marriage Act and by default it will take care of the marriage equality issue. Spouses can adopt and so once you’re married, couples qualify as spouses.”
In New Zealand only a married couple can adopt.
JOHN HARTEVELT AND DANYA LEVY