Maurice Williamson: An unlikely gay icon
National MP Maurice Williamson has become an unlikely gay icon following his speech at the final reading of the same-sex marriage bill.
On Wednesday night Mr Williamson delivered a masterclass in the use of humour as a weapon, introducing New Zealand – and the world – to memorable phrases like "the gay onslaught" and "most enormous big gay rainbow" as he dismantled arguments against the bill, which passed into law by a comfortable margin.
The speech, barely four minutes long, has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on sites like YouTube, the Huffington Post and Gawker, and has Mr Williamson worried about how he's going to follow it up.
"I feel a little bit like 'Gangnam Style' now – what am I going to do for an encore?" he said on Firstline this morning.
"I can hardly tweet, 'There's a meeting at the Howick Community Board this Friday night,' and get the same response."
The veteran MP, who has held the Pakuranga seat for National since 1987, says he's had offers to go on big US talk shows like The Ellen DeGeneres Show, but unfortunately the rules say he can't.
"They want to pay for me to go, and ministers are not allowed to have anyone pay for you, so I can't go."
Mr Williamson seems to be enjoying his moment in the spotlight, though he says some of the coverage has "gone a bit far".
"One of the newspapers in New York claimed I was one of New Zealand's only openly gay MPs," he laughs.
"That's not quite true – my wife wanted to know whether the New York Times knew something more than I did."
No one could have predicted Mr Williamson would be the breakout star of the gay marriage debate, but he says he's been on the liberal side of every vote since he became an MP.
"I voted for weekend trading… there was a huge battle in Parliament when we were going to open shops on the weekend. It was claimed to be the end of our society as we know it, some of the church groups had marches in the streets," he says.
"I voted for prostitution reform, wine in supermarkets. I might be quite a strong right-winger when it comes to economics, but I'm very liberal on the social policy side."
He was shocked by some of the "real nasty" correspondence he received from the public after voting for the bill in its earlier readings.
"What I found about the word 'Christian' is that some people who profess to be Christian are the least Christian there are, in terms of their attitude… To be threatened to burn in the furnaces of hell for eternity, it doesn't cut it with me. It just doesn't work. I don't know why in the year 2013 anyone would resort to that.
"When people say, 'We'll never vote for you again,' well that's your call. Actually it doesn't effect people's vote – I've had that over and over again, still get the same vote every election, it doesn't matter."
For Mr Williamson, gay marriage is no big deal.
"Let's face it, it's really quite trivial. All we're saying is that if two people love each other, why don't we let them recognise that with some sort of formal document? That's all we're doing. We're not declaring nuclear war on some foreign state or wiping out our agricultural sector.
"But you would think when you listen to some of the ardent opponents that this is the end of the world."
Highlights from Maurice Williamson's speech
"We are really struggling to know what the gay onslaught will look like. We don't know if it'll come down the Pakuranga highway as a series of troops, or whether it'll be a gas that flows in over the electorate and locks us all in. I also had a Catholic priest tell me that I was supporting an 'unnatural act'. I found that quite interesting coming from someone who's taken an oath of celibacy for his whole life."
"One of the messages I had was that this bill was the cause of our drought. Well, if any of you follow my Twitter account, you will see that in the Pakuranga electorate this morning, it was pouring with rain – we have the most enormous big gay rainbow across my electorate. It has to be a sign."
"I also received a letter telling me I would burn in the fires of hell for eternity, and that was a bad mistake because I've got a degree in physics. I used the thermodynamic laws of physics – I put in my body weight and my humidity and so on. I assumed the furnace to be at 5000 degrees, and I will last for just on 2.1 seconds. It's hardly eternity."
"I give you a watertight, guaranteed promise: the sun will still rise tomorrow. Your teenage daughter will still argue back with you as if she knows everything. Your mortgage will not grow. You will not have skin diseases, or rashes, or toads in your bed. The world will just carry on. So don't make this into a big deal."