Sometimes, when I tell people I grew up in New Zealand, they say “oh, I’d love to go there”. Sometimes they say they’ve been, and will then either say “oh, I’d love to go back” or they say “I found it really old fashioned”. To which I always reply, you can’t have been going to the right places in New Zealand. Sometimes they know it was the country that gave women the vote, first in the world, when they also created (equally importantly) universal suffrage. Sometimes people will know that New Zealand created the welfare state, or that New Zealand pioneered restorative justice. Sometimes they just know it’s a long way away. Which it is, from London. Not so far from Antarctica.
And sometimes, when people hear I grew up in New Zealand (and sometimes when NZers hear I grew up in Tokoroa), they insult me when they ask wasn’t it hard, as someone who was going to grow up to be gay and to be an artist. Wasn’t it hard not to be living where there were museums and art galleries and theatres and cinemas. And yes, those things are great (really, I don’t have a living without them!) but I’ve said on this blog before now that the greatest gift of growing up in Tokoroa was being in a multicultural community before it was trendy. Of knowing I was in a multicultural world before much of the rest of the world worked it out. (Admittedly, before some parts of NZ worked it out too!)
Today, NZ has made me prouder still. Aotearoa has made me prouder still. Aotearoa now has equal marriage. My home/nothome has legalised same sex marriage before the home/nothome I live in. How impressive.
And I know that there was a much bigger fuss in the UK media today, and I know that US media have plenty to talk about too, but I also know I have blog readers all over the world, and that even in the UK and the US, there are people interested in other news. So I wanted you to read this.
(Thanks to Sarah Jane Parton for sharing it with me.) It’s not too long, and it’s definitely worth reading all through.
Te Ururoa Flavell’s speech to NZ Parliament.
Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill
This is not the first time that Māori have encountered controversy around the concept of marriage
In 1888, the Supreme Court made a decision that has been described as “doubtful legally and deplorable socially’. That ‘doubtful’ and ‘deplorable’ decision was to reject the customary marriages that had existed mai rā anō – and to assume the marriage law of England took precedence. In fact the colonial law from another land was considered of such importance that the children of Maori customary marriages were now described as illegitimate.
Yet so significant was the status of customary marriages amongst our people, that they continued to be recognised for the purpose of succession to Maori land until 1951.
So when opponents of this Bill criticised a change to the definition of marriage as contravening our sacred traditions, I’d have to say, who’s traditions are we talking about?
And I want to bring a specific contribution to this house as proud uri of Ngāti Rangiwewehi. In 1849, Wi Maihi te Rangikäheke of Ngāti Rangiwewehi shared his knowledge of our atua in a publication, Ngā Tama a Rangi – and it is one of those stories I bring with me today.
You may have heard about Hinemoa and Tūtānekai – a story of love glorified by Victorian settlers with all the markings of romance. According to our tribal lore, Hinemoa, swam to Mokoia to be with her one true love.
I’m going to add to that story – and tell you instead about Tutanekai and Tiki. Before he married Hinemoa, Tūtānekai had a close male companion, Tiki. In a manuscript by 19th-century scholar Te Rangikāheke, Tūtānekai says to his father:
Ka aroha atu a Tutanekai ki a Tiki, ka mea atu ki a Whakaue.
Ka mate ahau i te aroha ki toku hoa, ki a Tiki.
Tūtānekai loved Tiki, and said to Whakaue
I am stricken with love for my friend, for Tiki.
Later Tūtānekai refers to Tiki as ‘taku hoa takatāpui’.
And so, from the wisdom of Ngāti Rangiwewehi, a new word was coined – takatāpui – defined in the Dictionary of the Maori Language compiled by missionary William Williams (1844) as ‘an intimate companion of the same sex’.
Takatapui is now used universally to describe people who might otherwise describe themselves as gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual or intersexual.
This history is set out by Māori academic, Dr Clive Aspin, in his analysis of Hōkakatanga – Māori sexualities.
The research tracked fast-forward to the early 2000s with the Māori Sexuality Project undertaken at Auckland University.
Many of the respondents in that research were able to recall examples of their kaumātua and kuia talking about people they knew who had a same-sex attraction. These people held positions of importance and status within their whānau and hapū. According to Dr Aspin, they were not rejected or marginalised, and were considered to be valuable members of their communities.
Talking about our history – our shared history in Aotearoa – is really important. We all know another painful history of discrimination, of prejudice, of homophobia.
Young people in such agony about the way they live their lives that suicide becomes their only option. People living in fear; in shame; scared of the harassment they have all too often experienced. And some of the lobbying every MP has endured over this last nine months has shown us the ugliness of stigma that has been hurled at our sister Louisa, and the meaning of this bill.
And so I urge us all to think deeply about the universal values of aroha, of commitment, of whakawhanaungatanga, trust, faith, hope. The values that we know best in the kaupapa tuku iho.
Two years ago Professor Piri Sciascia, who is Pro Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University told the crowd at the official opening of the 2nd Asia Pacific Out Games, that love and caring for each other, whether male to male or female to female and all shades inbetween has always been a part of Maori life, right from the union of Ranginui and Papatuanuku.
This kaumātua affirmed the reality of takataapui but also lay forth a challenge that our Maori history and cosmology make no judgment on who you should or shouldn’t love.
Whether it’s Tūtānekai and Tiki or Tutanekai and Hinemoa, what is fundamental is surely where we find love – love that can be all consuming; that lifts you to a higher plane; that makes every moment of infinite value.
Thank you Louisa for your courage; and to all of our colleagues who have shared their views, have spoken their truths and taken the time to think deeply about this issue.
As tonight’s third reading comes to an end I think about:
the tamariki and mokopuna who now know they don’t have to hide the fact there are two mums in their household; the parents who want to know that their son can marry the man of his dreams and they can all be out and proud on their special day; and all our whānau takatapui who celebrate tonight as the day in which history is made, in which their exceptional love – the love that endures all – is finally able to dare to say its name out loud.
Brilliant speech. I have swum many times facing Mokoia, we have a print of the lake and the island on our lounge wall. Now I have a new part of the story that goes with it.
And just in case that didn’t move you enough, have a look here …