It may seem surprising to see a former Black Fern and Silver Fern leading the charge to legalise gay marriage. But for Labour MP Louisa Wall, it’s a path she was destined to take.
“I’ve never not been out,” she says. “I think I realised I was gay in my late teens and from then on I’ve had female partners. “For me, it’s always been a part of who I am, so I’ve never felt a need not to share that.”
The 41-year-old’s passion for social change is what led her into politics. And her success on the field and sense of fair play helped prepare her to introduce the Marriage Amendment Bill, which could be passed through Parliament as early as next month.
Already in a civil union with partner Prue Tamatekapua , a lawyer specialising in Treaty of Waitangi issues, the couple first met through the Maori Women’s Welfare League in 2007.
The new bill will mean that couples in a civil union can simply fill in a form to change their status to that of a married couple. But Louisa and Prue aren’t going down that route.
“That hasn’t been a motivation for me,” Louisa explains. “It’s really about equality and nondiscrimination. “I mean, is it acceptable to discriminate against one group in modern society?” she asks.
While comfortable with her own personal situation, Louisa believes it’s vitally important for individuals and couples to have options. “We made the decision to have a civil union, but for Charles Chauvel [a gay Labour MP] and his partner, that wasn’t good enough – they decided to go to Canada and get married.”
Other countries, such as France, the UK and the US, are considering the same law change, but Canada, Spain and South Africa have beaten New Zealand to it – something Louisa finds fascinating given South Africa’s history of apartheid.
“One of the leaders in that discussion has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu,” Louisa says. “Essentially, he said, ‘We’ve just gone through a process of getting rid of apartheid and now we’re going to discriminate against homosexuals.’”
Louisa and mother-of-two Prue had their ceremony at Te Mahurehure Marae in Point Chevalier, Auckland, where 200 guests helped celebrate their union in 2010.
“For us, the cultural recognition was important, as well as having our family and friends there to celebrate,” she explains.
Now, with Prue at her side and achieving recognition as one of Parliament’s youngest MPs, there is only one thing missing in Louisa’s life – a baby. While she would love to be a mother and has tried to conceive in the past, her efforts have been unsuccessful.
“Fertility is a big issue for a lot of women in New Zealand,” she says. “I’ve got a really full life with nieces and nephews , so I’m a really good auntie. “Looking at our lives, they’re full enough,” she adds.
In recent years, Louisa’s sport has taken a back seat to her job, but she’s always been a natural on the rugby field and netball court. She made her first netball representative team aged 11 and played for the Taupo senior soccer team when she was just 13.
She made the Silver Ferns at 17 – where she played alongside TV presenter April Ieremia – and also represented New Zealand in the Black Ferns. Throw in some talent as a tennis player and a purple belt in karate and you have an exceptional athlete.
Her long hours at Parliament have taken a toll on Louisa’s fitness, but she’s determined to change that this year, joining Les Mills and vowing to go to a spin class twice a week.
“I can say that it’s making a difference already,” says Louisa.
When she’s not at Parliament, Louisa loves spending time at the modern home she shares with Prue in Manurewa, Auckland. Decorated in warm red and filled with designs by Maori artists, her house provides a haven from the stress of politics.
“It’s the toughest part of the job – being away from the people I love the most.”