A year ago tomorrow, New Zealand celebrated its first civil unions. In that time, 458 couples have got hitched, compared with around 20,000 marriages. Predictably, conservatives are focusing on the disparity of numbers, proclaiming that the entire exercise was "a waste of time" and not worth the emotion invested into it. An obvious response is to agree and say that clearly they got worked up over nothing - but somehow I don't think that's what they mean. Instead they're saying that we shouldn't have bothered passing a law just so these 916 people could have their relationships legally recognised - that the fundamental right to equality of those 916 people simply isn't important. I think the moral indefenceability of that argument ought to be apparent to all. These are fundamental rights we are talking about here, and even one person being denied such rights is one too many - a position conservatives would be swift to proclaim if it was their rights that were not recognised.
But Bill English isn't entirely wrong in calling civil unions "political symbolism". The act of ensuring those fundamental rights for same-sex couples is also symbolic of our commitment to equality and a society from which no-one is excluded - values conservatives have always been implacably opposed to.