By Danielle May, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy. The New Zealand parliament has this week voted overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing gay marriage, with the Marriage Equality Bill being passed 77 votes to 44. MPs broke into song after the vote was read out and there have been nation-wide celebrations to mark the momentous day. New Zealand joins the ranks of twelve other countries where gay marriage is legally recognized, namely Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and Uruguay. The US remains divided on the issue, with nine US states having legalized gay marriage so far and other states remaining resistant. Legislation is pending in the United Kingdom, where civil partnership is currently legal but gay marriage is not.
Despite the increased recognition of gay rights around the world, there are many states where homosexuals face consistent oppression and discrimination from the governments and citizens of their country. Homosexuality itself, not only homosexual marriage, is illegal in thirty-eight African nations, some of which have violent repercussions for the alleged crime. Uganda, for example, has a bill pending in Parliament that, if passed, would see the introduction of the death penalty for homosexuals and has already led to many gay Ugandans fleeing the country in fear.While this is a frightening future for Uganda, sadly, many gay people are indeed already living with the threat of capital punishment as a daily reality, as several countries have implemented the death penalty for the ‘crime’ of homosexuality, including Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Mauritania, Yemen, Iran and the UAE. While these are the only countries that legally condone death as a response to homosexuality, that by no means limits the abuses of gay rights to these countries and gays continue to suffer persecution, discrimination and violence in many nations around the world. Marriage is by no means the only right that gays have to fight for, with other rights such as the right to adoption and the right to serve in the military still remaining out of reach for many.
Although gay marriage may still elude citizens of many nations, it would seem the tide is turning. The biggest demographic division in the issue of gay marriage is in fact not along political lines, such as the Republican-Democrat split in the US, but along lines of age. An overwhelming number of people under the age of 30 support gay marriage, with legalization supported by 81% of young people in the US. Since New Zealand introduced the Marriage Equality Bill, pressure has already been mounting on Australian MPs to succumb to the stance held by the majority of the public to legalize gay marriage, a change that many view as inevitable.
It seems that in most Western countries, opinion has moved ahead of politicians when it comes to the issue of gay marriage. Many believe that as a younger generation of politicians rise through the ranks, gay rights will cease to even be a point of contention and will be automatically accepted in law, government and public life. In the way that the civil rights movement rendered the notion of black and white people being unable to marry absurd, so will the gay rights movement make the concept of gays being unable to have their relationship recognized by the law seem a hideously outdated and discriminatory idea. New Zealand’s vote this week marks the transition of public opinion into the political forum on the issue, and a movement towards universal recognition of gay rights.
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