Today, the small, South Pacific island nation of New Zealand's Parliament voted to redefine marriage to be inclusive of same-sex couples. After the final vote count was done, the gallery broke out in song. If you don't know the song, and don't know its origins, you probably found the moment sweet, but otherwise unremarkable.
I moved to New Zealand in 1999. It was my love for a Kiwi woman that was the impetus behind this move to the other side of the globe. The other side of the equator. Far, far away from friends and family. Into a culture I knew almost nothing about. I learned the story behind the traditional Maori song, Pokarekare Ana, almost immediately. Anyone who spends any significant time in NZ needs to know it, because it's a song every New Zealander sings. Stay late enough at any Kiwi party, and have enough to drink, and someone will invariably pick up a guitar and start playing it. And everyone will sing along. Some of them will weep. Because the song that every New Zealander knows, the song that New Zealand Parliament broke out into, isn't just any old song. It's a song of forbidden love. It's a song about struggle and hardship endured by two people who just want to be together. It's a song about lovers who risk life and limb to be together despite society's objections.
In 2004, when NZ Parliament was getting ready to vote on the Civil Unions Bill - the first step towards legalized same-sex marriage - the general public was invited to make formal submissions for or against the bill. I put together a submission. Actually, I wrote a story. I wrote the story of my grandparents who, like Hinemoa and Tutanekai, were forbidden by society's dictates to be together. I wrote about how my grandparents, who'd known each other since childhood, had secretly, privately loved one another from afar for years, before they finally found a way to be together. I wrote about how they adored one another, and built a life together and had nine children together. I wrote about how they did all of this without the benefit of being legally married. I wrote about how I dared anyone to tell me their relationship was any less real or true or legitimate than any legal marriage. And I wrote about how their relationship was so much like the relationship I was in, which wasn't recognized, legally, either. One of the MPs read my submission and invited me to appear before New Zealand's Parliament to testify in favor of the Civil Union Bill. I considered this invitation an honor and a privilege - as a naturalized New Zealander, as a writer, and as a lesbian. In many ways, the 15 minutes I spent in front of New Zealand's Parliament, reading my submission, and answering questions put before me by various MPs, add up to my proudest moments.
This morning, when I watched the footage of that final vote count, and heard those loud, strong, sweet voices break out into song, I had to stop myself from crying tears of joy. Because I did, indeed, know the significance of that particular song...a song about lovers who remind me of my grandparents, and of every other pair of unlikely lovers, ever. It was The Perfect Kiwi Moment.