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A bill to legalise same-sex marriage should be passed into law, a Parliamentary Select Committee has recommended.
The Government Administration Committee said the private member's bill should progress, but with an amendment to make it clear that no minister was obliged to marry someone against their own beliefs.
The committee report said: "The bill seeks to extend the legal right to marry to same-sex couples; it does not seek to interfere with people's religious freedoms."
The Marriage Act would be amended to put beyond doubt that no celebrant recognised by a religious body or nominated by an approved organisation would have to marry a couple if it meant contravening their own, or the organisation's beliefs.
The bill's sponsor, Labour MP Louisa Wall, said the law change was an important milestone towards achieving a fairer, more equal New Zealand.
"Marriage equality is about fairness and choice. This process has showed that that message has really resonated with New Zealanders and has been echoed overseas with the recent passage of similar legislation in the UK."
The report also said a majority of the select committee agreed that marriage was a human right, and that it was unacceptable for the state to deny this right to same-sex couples.
Some members of the committee felt that marriage was not a right, and should continue to be the sole domain of heterosexual couples.
The committee received 21,533 submissions on the bill, 2898 of which had unique content. Of the submissions, 10,487 were in favour and 8148 against.
The committee acknowledged that New Zealanders held "sincere and strong beliefs" about the importance of marriage.
"The passion with which submitters made their arguments to us was palpable."
MPs said they were impressed by the participation of young people in the discussion, with heartfelt submissions heard from both side sides of the debate.
"We are heartened that so many of the younger generation, which is so often maligned as uninterested in politics and marriage, chose to involve themselves in this debate."
The bill's second reading will be held on March 13.
The legislation passed its first reading by 80 votes to 40.
- By Isaac Davison of the NZ Herald