Marriage Amendment Bill: What Happens Now?

31 Aug

On Wednesday, while standing outside of Parliament listening to inspiring speeches in favour of marriage equality, I was asked by a couple of friends “What next? How many times will this have to pass a vote in the House?” After some hemming and hawing I had to admit that even though I had posted on this subject, I couldn’t quite remember the details. Thus, with Wednesdays First Reading vote in favour of Louisa Wall’s Marriage Amendment bill, now is a pertinent time to re-post a previous blog on how bills become law. Wall’s bill is currently proceeding into the third phase of the process where it will go before a select committee. If marriage equality is something you feel passionately about and you are worried that the loud and caustic voices of social conservatives are being heard excessively, now is your chance to comment on the future you see for New Zealand. Opportunities like this don’t come along very often so if you are keen to make a submission information how to do so can be found here. For a great summary of the first debate about this bill in House, check out Gordan Cambells blog here.

1.    Introduction: A bill is made publically available and is announced in the House. There are four types of bill that can be introduced, Government bills which are part of the governments legislative programme to enable their policy platform, Members bills which can be introduced by members other than ministers; Local bills that are prompted by local authorities and deal with matters confined to a particular locality and Private bills- which are uncommon and provide for a particular interest in the form of an exemption for the general law for an individual or group of people (for example, it would enable two people to marry who are too closely related to married such as adopted siblings).  Bills are publically available here. The Marriage Amendment bill was introduced through a ballot as a Members bill.

2.    First Reading:  This is when the bill is first debated in the House and when it is decided if a bill should progress further to a select committee.  If the bill is defeated in votes then that is the end of the bill. A fifty-plus-one percentage of the vote is needed for the bill to proceed. At present, with 121 members in parliament, 61 votes are needed. This is the case in the second and third readings as well. The Marriage Amendment Bill has just passed this stage with 80 – 40 vote in favour.

3.    Select Committee: This is when the public have a chance to get involved. Select committees are made up of politicians from across parties.  They invite public submissions on the bill and then hold public hearings to listen to some of those who made submissions.  After hearing all the submissions, those on the committee work through issues raised and decide on any changes that need to be made to address and concerns from the public submissions.

4.    Second Reading: A bill is read a second time to the House. Members of parliament debate the bill and any changes that have been recommended by the select committee. Again at this stage, if the vote is lost then this is the end of the bill. For the Marriage Amendment bill this stage is expected to occur sometime in the next six to twelve months.

5.    Committee of the Whole House: If the bill progresses through the vote then it is again debated in the house, however it is a less formal debate and the speaker of the house is not present.  The bill is examined closely and the debate can take several days.

6.    Third Reading: Changes made in the previous stage are incorporated and the bill is summed up in the third reading.  The bill has a final vote before going to last stage of the process.  Bills are not commonly rejected at this stage.

7.    Royal Assent:  The bill is signed by the Queen or the Queens representative the Governor General (Presently Jerry Mataparae) and then becomes law.
Kiri Stevens

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