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Regional Spotlight On… New Zealand

New Zealand, long a country known for its natural beauty, is also a rather progressive nation on LGBTI issues“I think people felt sort of some strange sense of pride, perhaps, that we have a Parliament and an electoral system that could make it possible for people like me to come to the highest court in the land and represent other New Zealanders.” -Georgina Beyer, the world’s first transsexual to be elected to Parliament, in a Question and Answer section for PBS in America

Queer New Zealanders have had a lot to celebrate over the last couple of years. 2006 marked the 20th anniversary of homosexual law reform, and more recently, in 2005, the civil union act was passed, offering same-sex couples a way to legally formalise their relationships. With the Human Rights Commission’s Transgender Inquiry due to publish its report by the end of the year, transgender and intersexed New Zealanders may be one step closer to having their rights protected under the law as well.

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The Civil Union Act, which provides a new legally recognised relationship for both same-sex and opposite sex couples, celebrated its second birthday on 26 April this year. According to Statistics New Zealand, there have been 842 civil unions registered between April 2005 and April 2007, and 678 of them have been between same-sex couples. In 2006, there were 33 civil unions registered to overseas residents.

The Civil Union Act essentially grants all of the rights and protections of marriage to same-sex or opposite sex- couples who enter into a civil union. While this is progressive legislation, it is not nearly as impressive as the laws in the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Canada that actually allow gay marriage. Still, the rights to be named your partner’s next of kin, to take your partner’s surname with the same ease that married couples do, and to be buried next to your partner have been appreciated by many queer couples. For more information on how to enter into a civil union in NZ, go to the Department of Internal Affairs site.

Transgendered and intersexed New Zealanders also anticipate the release of the Human Rights Commission’s report on its Transgender Inquiry. The inquiry, which was begun in August of last year, is looking at transgender people’s personal experiences of discrimination, their difficulties accessing health services, and the barriers that transgender people face when trying to have their gender identity legally recognised (for example, on birth certificates and passports). The Commission conducted public hearings in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and also received written submissions. A summary of the submissions was released in May, and the draft final report should be released towards the end of June with the finalized report planned for release this September. The summary of submissions can be found on the commission’s website.

-by Edward Goode

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