Thursday, November 17, 2005



Fighting the marriage bill

United Future's Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill will come before Parliament in a couple of weeks for its first vote. If it passes, the bill will do two things. The first would be to define marriage in exclusively heterosexual terms. While this mirrors the existing law (from Quilter v Attorney-General), enacting it at this stage would send the same message that the failure of the Homosexual Law Reform or Civil Union Acts would have done: that we are a nasty, bigoted, intolerant country, where gays will never truly be considered part of mainstream society. The second thing the bill would do would be to amend the Bill of Rights Act to allow discrimination in favour of marriage. This would gut existing anti-discrimination measures in the Human Rights Act, and effectively license both state and private discrimination against the unmarried. We've had those provisions since the Human Rights Commission Act 1977, and they've helped transform our society into a brighter, more tolerant place. But now United Future and the fundamentalist Christian lobby want to turn back the clock...

Almost every Labour MP is expected to vote against this bill, as the Greens and Jim Anderton. This leaves the bill's fate in the hands of ACT, the Maori Party, and National's liberal faction. Based on stated positions and past voting information, this gives us the following targets for lobbying:

Known liberals:

Critical unknowns:

In addition, there are two National Party MPs who indicated in their NZVotes profiles that they opposed this legislation: Maurice Williamson and Chris Finlayson. They need to be reminded of it.

There is also a reasonable group who, while likely to support the definition of marriage, may not support weakening anti-discrimination laws. These include:

All but the first two voted for the Human Rights Act back in 1993. Reminding them of that could be useful leverage.

If we want an open, tolerant New Zealand, we need to speak up for it. You can start by contacting one of the people above about the bill. Or, you could sign the pledge and contact five...

(Address information from the Parliamentary Services list here).

23 comments:

Are you stupid? Marriage is an age old tradition between and man and a woman. Only some wooley eyed pinko liberal would think otherwise.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/17/2005 07:28:00 PM

I'm a firm advocate for glb/same sex couple rights - having been heavily involved in the civil union campaign.

However, one thought about have been mulling over is whether codifying, at this time, that marriage is between one man and one woman is as bad as it first seems. (I am, though, firmly opposed to the other egregious clauses in the Bill!) This part of the Bill reflects the current legal position following the Quilter case. While it technically could be revisited and overturned in the future, it is unlikely in the foreseeable future. As much as that hurts and is an affront to the dignity of same-sex couples (even with the “separate but equal” civil unions framework), that is the legal reality we presently face.

In some respects, there may be some benefit it maintaining a focus point for the discrimination. It reminds us every day that the legal framework in our country still treats same-sex couples as second-class citizens. It’s one thing to point to the three (rather oblique) judgments of the majority of the Court of Appeal in Quilter as the source of the discrimination; it’s another to point to express statutory wording:

- Section 3(3): “For the avoidance of doubt, marriage may only occur between one man and one woman."
- Section 2A: “A person may not marry another person of the same gender."

I think having an symbolic manifestation of the discrimination in our legislation leaves something for our future glb generations to fight against.

Dean

Posted by Dean Knight : 11/17/2005 08:51:00 PM

PS I should add that these a tentative thoughts. My instant reaction is to fight the d*mn thing. Unjustified discrimination like this has no place on our statute books!

Posted by Dean Knight : 11/17/2005 08:52:00 PM

PPS far too tired to be blogging - far too many little typos!

Posted by Dean Knight : 11/17/2005 08:59:00 PM

Anon: Marriage is simply a civil contract affirming rights in law. Churches can attach other meaning to it if they want to, but as far as the state is concerned, that's all there is to it. And gender is completely irrelevant to that.

Dean: I think the definition isn't the worst bit of the law - the BORA amendments get to claim that dubious distinction - but I'd still rather that we weren't sending that sort of message about our society. That said, I'm quite willing to accept the bill without s7 (and ideally without s5) as a fallback position.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/17/2005 09:05:00 PM

Yes we have to fight all of it. To allow this to pass would give the biblical literalists their first victory and would send the wrong signal to our young people, and to the world.

For many people in the world, NZ is a beakon of hope about how things can be (I know we're not perfect, but people look to our laws, our numbers of openly gay MPs/Candidates in elections, the worlds first Transgendered MP etc with a lot of admiration).

Posted by Tony Milne : 11/18/2005 09:57:00 AM

It all depends on whether or not you associate marriage with a man and woman having children. In which case gender is completely relevant.

Posted by muerk : 11/18/2005 06:51:00 PM

Muerk: You might - but that's certainly not why the government is (or should be) involved. If you delve into the history of our Marriage Act (and preceeding legislation), you'll find out that it has never had anything to do with children. Our (or rather, the UK's) marriage law was originally enacted to prevent the "perils of clandestinity" - i.e. bigamy. Their interest is in operating a register to provide clarity and enforceability, just as they do for land titles. And that's all it should be. If a church thinks marriage is about children, fine, they can tell that to their parishioners all they want. But that has nothing to do with the law in New Zealand.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/18/2005 07:26:00 PM

I think that associating marriage and children is not necessarily a religious thing.

I'm not arguing that all marriages should produce children, but stating that we have traditionaly considered marriage to be the best social institution for that.

Posted by muerk : 11/19/2005 10:23:00 AM

Muerk: of course not. That's why only religious people do it.

Sorry, the disingenuity of this argument gets to me. If you think marriage is a sacred union blessed by god, come out and say it. But don't expect the state to reflect your peculiar prejudices.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 11/19/2005 10:34:00 AM

Is it the case that straight parents are neccessarily needed to look after kids? Not when you consider that our reproductive technology, fostering and guardianship laws already recognise parents, and when Denmark, the United Kingdom
and the Netherlands all recognise
same sex parental adoption.

Craig Y

Posted by Anonymous : 11/19/2005 11:07:00 AM

And if a church thinks marriage is about children, then they should forbid infertile people from marrying. If they're not prepared to do that, then they need to come up with another argument for forbidding gay people marrying.

What goes on inside a relationship is none of the state's business, and none of my business either, unless there is demonstrable harm ie another sort of crime is committed.

Every incentive you provide for marriage is a disincentive for someone trying to extract themselves from an abusive marriage.

Posted by Ghet : 11/19/2005 01:40:00 PM

"Sorry, the disingenuity of this argument gets to me."

You're projecting your anti-religious prejuices. Marriage is between a man and a woman, and I thought that years prior to converting. In fact I remember discussing it with Picasso even before I married Shoei. And as you know, I was faaar from any Christian morality then...

I felt that marriage as a concept was between a man and a woman, and trying to change that cultural definition by law was creating a false social institution. Marriage was what it was, every unwed man could marry any unwed woman and it wasn't "marriage's" fault if some people didn't want to because they fancied their own gender.

So you can take your little secular humanist bigotry and try to think a bit harder about me.

Posted by muerk : 11/19/2005 06:04:00 PM

In a pluralist society, women and
men have the right to freedom of
religious belief, conscience,
worship and assembly, as well as
religious speech.

However, untramelled religious
practice goes way beyond that.
Devout JW parents can't stop
kids in need from having blood
transfusions. The anti-abortion
lobby and antigay groups are
equally barred from enforcing
their prejudices against abortion
and homosexuality.

Believe what you want, Muerk. You
are free to do so in a democratic
society. When it comes to public
policy, however, you will need to
find independent scientific,
medical or social scientific
verification for what you say.

And before you protest about
"secular humanism" again...
remember Yugoslavia? Remember
the Orthodox role in anti-
Muslim atrocities in Bosnia-
Herzegovina and Kosovo? Church-
state neutrality protects
religious believers too.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/20/2005 02:00:00 PM

Actually I don't have to justify the law as it stands.

If you think that same sex couples can be married then you have to justify it in order to effect change. If you want to change the definition of marriage then you are the one who must dredge up proof that the status quo definition is wrong.

And I have a beef with Idiot Savant's bigotry towards me for being "disingenuous" because I am a Catholic, a somewhat more personal issue than Bosnia-
Herzegovina, no?

Posted by muerk : 11/20/2005 03:20:00 PM

Therefore, Muerk, is your
stance toward the inadmissibility
of same-sex marriage guided by
a neo-Thomist 'natural law' view
of human physiology, gender and
sexuality?

It seems to ground much
conservative Catholic opposition
to same-sex marriage.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/21/2005 10:59:00 AM

Furthermore, Muerk, yes, you do
have to justify the law as it
stands. Canada has just
legislated for same-sex marriage
at the federal level, and before
that, at several provincial
levels. In doing so, prior case
law marshalled an impressive range
of evidence why marital law
discrimination is wrong.

Granted, New Zealand has no
similar written constitution.

However, the ethical question of
a discriminatory marital law will
remain until it is resolved
satisfactorily.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 11/21/2005 11:02:00 AM

Muerk, if you are defending the right to justify definition of marriage by the terms of a religious norm then what gives you the right to claim that your christian religious norm should be the one which supersedes that of other religions where multiple marriage partners might be considered their norm. I don't call that bigotry, I call it hegemony.

To be fair to everyone, if marriage is going to be defined in terms of religion then all religions should have an equal right to practice the kind of marriage which is acceptable under their own religion of choice.

Personally though, I think marriage in the eyes of the law should not be defined by any one religion.

If you choose to have your legal marriage blessed by your own religious ceremonies that's your personal right to choose, but it's no religions right to deny me the right of having my homosexual relationship ratified by legal marriage if I so choose.

Posted by zANavAShi : 11/21/2005 10:51:00 PM

Well, given they're having to bring in an amendment, this clearly ISN'T the law as it stands. If it was, there'd be no marriage bill.

However. That's a bit disingenuous given our legal history on same-sex marriage test cases. So let's pretend the gender definition bit of this amendment IS law.

If you think that same sex couples can be married then you have to justify it in order to effect change. If you want to change the definition of marriage then you are the one who must dredge up proof that the status quo definition is wrong.

The status quo is wrong for the same reason that banning mixed race marriage in the States was wrong, because it's discriminatory. On a more personal scale, it causes harm and distress to individuals by denying some people a right other people posses: the right to marry the person they love.

It also creates a rather bizarre value system around marriage, because it's legal for a woman to marry a man she doesn't love, for pecuniary advantage, but it's a crime for her to marry a woman she DOES love. I might be old-fashioned and naive, but I believe the most important thing about a relationship is love, not money, legal advantage, or how may penises said relationship contains.

I'm bi. If my current partner were to die, and I subsequently fell in love with a woman, I couldn't marry her. If I died, she wouldn't have guardianship over the children we would have raised together during that relationship.

The bill does, in my opinion, real, tangible harm to individuals. Now, you show me what real, tangible harm would be done by allowing gay marriage. Because I can't see any.

Also, this 'it's always been this way' argument is just... at one point, women had never voted, it was considered unnatural. Should we still be there, simply because 'that was the way things had always been'?

Posted by Ghet : 11/22/2005 01:34:00 PM

But this is my point, marriage between a man and a woman was NOT considered merely a religious norm (which I freely admit it is) but a SECULAR norm as well.

The idea that marriage is about love is a very, very modern Western concept, much of the non-Western world still practice arranged marriages. Why? Because a relationship so vital to family is considered too important for the individuals involved to be swayed by personal feelings.

Now I'm not arguing for arranged marriages, just trying to explain that marriage is about more than the feelings of two people.

All traditional religions regard marriage as the institution for raising children. I remember the hoo haa when the Dalai Lama stated that homosexuality was against the natural law - and he's no Thomist.

And Ghet, you are wrong, you can appoint any guardian for your children in your will. Of course she could continue to care for your children. However over the age of 9 (I think) the children's oppinion is taken into account as to who they live with.

And as for denying those in love, what about adult siblings? Should they be allowed to marry if they fall in love?

I realise I'm covering lots of points here, but I just don't think that the "man-woman" definition is religious. Religions may agree with it, but that doesn't make it specificaly religious on the face of that.

Catholics for example were informed by the Pope against the invasion of Iraq. Would agreeing with the Pope make the position a specificaly religious one? No.

Posted by muerk : 11/22/2005 08:02:00 PM

I never said anything about religion. I don't actually care whether someone's reasons for opposing gay marriage are religious or not. And not all religious people, or even all Christians, are opposed.

Yes, I can name whomever I please as my child's guardian in my will, and anyone can contest that will and have those children taken away. It's already happened in the States where families are opposed to the gay relationship. And of course, an awful lot of people simply don't bother to make wills or name guardians for their children. I haven't.

And yeah, like I said, I'm an idealist, and I don't think marriage should be about more than personal feelings. Or at least, I don't think anything else should take precedence over the feelings of the people involved. I can't think of anything important enough to make two people completely miserable over. And as I said, show me the harm it would do to let them marry.

I was actually expecting 'then why can't I marry my dog' or 'this twelve year old girl'. That's what you normally get having this argument. Incest is at least a fresh approach, and I think I'm the wrong person to answer that question, because my answer would be well, y'know, if they both love each other and they can't have children, then yeah, why not. Which is rather like asking Deborah Coddington about banning non-whites from your cafe.

Posted by Ghet : 11/22/2005 09:09:00 PM

Ghet, I was replying generally, not just to you, and others had brought up the religious angle.

I should point out that civil unions and de-facto relationships have the same legal ramifications as marriage does in New Zealand, so by maintaining the staus quo of marriage being man and woman, _no_ gay couple is going to have their personal legal rights compromised.

As for incest, well it normally takes a few generations to begin the genetic hiccups, see various royal families... So a brother and sister having children isn't likely to be a problem physically. I mean you could always have the bad luck of falling for someone with the same genetic problems as you.

But you can see where making marriage an individualistic contract based on just feelings logicaly gets us - legal incest. Doesn't that demonstrate that your logic is flawed, given most people have serious moral issues with incestuous relationships?

Posted by muerk : 11/22/2005 10:38:00 PM

I don't think it is appropriate to use the argument of "SECULAR" in this debate because the cultural norms and laws of any society are shaped over centuries by the dominant religion of that society and western society norms tend to have been shaped by christianity.

All other arguments aside, I think the key point here is that marriage is a committment between consenting adults who wish to share their lives together and those bonds are generally founded in sexual union.

We could go on forever debating the semantics, but the bottom line is that it brings no harm on society if that marriage is male/female, female/female or male/male.

The commitment is defined by the partners and it is no business of the state to deny that being formalised by legal marriage if they so choose.

Anything else to me is discrimination.

Posted by zANavAShi : 11/23/2005 12:20:00 PM