When in 2013, New Zealand’s Parliament passed a law legalising marriage for same-sex couples, MPs broke into song. It was spontaneous and it was joyous. The footage of that moment spread around the world.
That Parliament had passed the law some 27 years after decriminalising homosexual sex without the same level of acrimony is testament to changes in New Zealand society, but also due to the proponent of the marriage bill – Louisa Wall.
In just nine months, Wall tirelessly promoted the bill, lobbied MPs, met with opposition groups, and changed people’s minds about the rights of queer people to get married. It was a remarkable achievement.
Now after 14 years in politics, Wall has resigned. The reason? She was challenged by another Labour Party member for the right to stand as the candidate for Labour in the Manurewa electorate just before the 2020 General Election. The challenge, against an incumbent MP, was quite unusual. After Wall threatened to take the challenge to court, a compromise occurred where Wall gave up the seat and was guaranteed a higher placing on the party’s list.
It’s been obvious for some time that many of the power brokers in Labour wanted her gone. I’ve read the speculation, and indeed when she gave up the fight to retain her place as MP for Manurewa, I was privy to a number of discussions about who was doing what and why behind the scenes.
Whatever the reasons, it was quite wrong, and unfair for Labour to treat her that way, particularly so close to the election.
So, although she has not yet given any more detail, I don’t blame her for still feeling aggrieved.
There has been plenty of talk that Louisa wasn’t a team player, that she followed her own path, and put her own causes first.
Maybe that’s true.
But, what is wrong with that? The problem with politics is that too often, idealistic people are forced to abandon their principles for the good of the party, or because getting consensus is so difficult. That is not unique to the Labour Party or indeed New Zealand.
But surely, MMP has taught us that a wider range of voices, ideas, and values is better for society. Politics though is a brutal game, and if parties are not seen as ‘united’ and on message, it creates instability.
As for not being a team player, well, her history in sport and being part of the Black Ferns who won the Women’s Rugby World Cup shows that she understands what is involved and needed in a team.
Frankly, I don’t care about the speculation and the gossip. When I judge a person I mostly try to do it on how they interact with and treat me.
In that, regard, Louisa has always been supportive and kind. Always available should I contact her about a story or an interview. Whenever I have seen her at an event, she has always greeted me with a smile and asked me how I’m doing. I’ve witnessed her with people from all backgrounds, and she treats them all the same. She listens, and she takes endless selfies with them on request.
She isn’t perfect, none of us is, but she has put in a huge amount of work that has lead to some much needed legislative change affecting many marginalised people. Parliament and Labour will be poorer because of her absence.
This week, I texted her and asked if she wanted to give me an interview, but no pressure. For the first time in the years I have known her, she hasn’t responded.
But I don’t mind, she said publicly she wouldn’t be speaking yet. I fully understand, and I don’t judge her. I am sure, this is a very emotional moment. In the meantime, I will sit and wait with interest to hear her final speech in Parliament.
Until then though, I want you to know Louisa, that I thank you so much for the work you have done for all of us, and in particular for raising the dignity of the LGBTQ+ community and ensuring our relationships have equality in law.
We are deeply grateful.