Monday, November 29, 2004

Reporting back

The Justice and Electoral Committee has issued its report on the Civil Union Bill [PDF], which opens the way for the Bill to be passed later this week. There have been a number of cosmetic changes - mostly changing terminology to more clearly seperate civil unions from marriage (CUs are no longer "solemnised", they are "entered into"; parties to a civil union are not "spouses" but "partners" - as well as one significant one: the recognition of foreign partnerships that are equivalent to a civil union (in much the same way as we recognise foreign marriages). There's also been a freeing up of the vows from the traditional "I AB take you CD..." to a clear statement by each party that names the other and acknowledges that they are freely joining in a civil union together. While Stephen Franks and Murray Smith objected to this as producing a "vacuum of purpose" at the heart of the bill, it simply acknowledges that the relationship is ultimately personal, and reflects this by allowing people far greater freedom to celebrate it in the manner of their choosing. The same trend can be seen in the growth of personalised vows in marriages (I can think of only one wedding I have been to which was not personalised in this manner), and while most personalised marriage vows are reminiscent of bad teenage poetry, it cannot be denied that they reflect the participant's wishes. And that is as it should be; the Civil Union Bill is on the right track here, and the Marriage Act should be amended to follow suit.

I'm quite disturbed by Franks' opposition in this area, especially as he also notes that the similar vacuum in the Marriage Act is fleshed out by custom. These are not the words of a man who thinks the state should leave people free to decide for themselves what their relationships look like; rather, he is advocating that these matters be dictated to people by law and tradition. It's a salutory reminder that despite its rhetoric, ACT is not a liberal party in any meaningful sense of the word. They do not care about freedom of speech. They do not care about human rights. And as seen here, they do not care about individual freedom and choice in the most central and personal aspects of our lives: our relationships.

The Bill is expected to go through its final stages on Thursday, so if you haven't already, email your MP and let them know what you think of it.