New Zealand paints a rainbow

Maraetai Beach, NZ, courtesy Tomwsulcer & Haley Sulcer

Maraetai Beach, Auckland, NZ. From  Tomwsulcer & Haley Sulcer

I was thrilled to hear yesterday that my country of birth, New Zealand, agreed in Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. This makes it the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to do so.

Although I left NZ in the late 1980s, I have never changed my nationality, I visit often and I still feel very much a New Zealander. So I am proud when I hear that NZ has taken such a big step toward equality of all its people.

NZ has many problems, like any other country, such as a growing economic division between rich and poor,  outrageous real estate prices in major cities, an over-emphasis on commercialism, corporate greed and materialism in some quarters.

But it also has, at heart, a people with a generous spirit, people who believe in equality, be it in regard to gender, race or sexual orientation.

Like Flick, the “little engine that could” in the children’s story, NZ to me is the “little country that could”. This group of dots in the Pacific Ocean has certainly made its mark on the world, and I wanted to celebrate some of those firsts in my blog today. There are, of course, many more, but these are a few that I know of:

  • 1893: First country to achieve universal suffrage when it gave women the vote.
  • 1894: First county to enact a national minimum wage—Australia did not do this until 1907, and the US until 1938.
  • 2001: First country in which women simultaneously held its three top positions of power—they were, then, the Prime Minister, Helen Clark; the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright; and the Chief Justice, Sian Elias.  In fact, the top five positions were held by women if you add the attorney general Margaret Wilson and the leader of the opposition, Jenny Shipley.
  • 2013: First country in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage (and 13th in the world).

There are lost of firsts in terms of inventions, technology and scientific advances, too:

  • 1882: First country to ship refrigerated meat (to England).
  • 1884: William Atack was the first sports referee to use a whistle to control a game.
  • 1919: Ernest Rutherford split the atom.
  • 1954: William Hamilton invented the jet boat.
  • 1961: Arthur Lydiard invented and popularised the method of fitness training known as “jogging”.
  • 1987: A. J. Hackett invented bungy jumping.

NZers also invented the spring-free trampoline, the Zorb, the blokart, the circular hairpin, the cycling monorail. More: NZ innovations

But going back to yesterday’s step forward regarding human rights, I believe that in order to achieve a peaceful world, we must treat people equally. All people must have the same opportunities to live in safety and comfort, to pursue happiness, to be educated, to earn a living, and to marry the person they love. Parliament broke into song yesterday (Pokarekare Ana, a traditional love song) when the results of the vote were announced. If you missed this very moving moment, catch it here: NZ legalises same-sex marriage

I hope, too, that this step forward will prompt politicians in Australia to do the same. So far, both the federal government and the opposition are saying they will not. But it’s only a matter of time, surely.