Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A waste of time?

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.


Just came accross your blog while composing a letter of invite to a conference that I'm helping to organise. I thought you and your readers might be interested in it.

FOCaL is a new Christian based group which supports socially progressive legistlation such as the Civil Union Act. Like you we do not want to see a re-turn to the right.

Here's our media release in draft form - you get to see it first.

Media Release

“In the lead up to last election one would be forgiven for thinking that the church’s primary role in society was to complain. Particularly to complain about the sexual practices of others and legislation that gave protection to people who choose a lifestyle other than that authorised by the traditional church values. The Christian voice in New Zealand is far broader than that of the so called ‘moral right’ We have a heritage of promoting social justice and working for a fair society where all are protected and ensured the right to live with freedom of conscience. A number of Christian leaders expressed disdain that in the lead up to last election complex issues were portrayed as simple black and white decisions, healthy debate was sidelined and the voice of progressive Christianity was not heard at all. The Hikoi of Hope in 1998 was where the phrase enough is enough was voiced to make a stand for positive action to alleviate poverty and ensure a just society for all. In 2005 the same phrase was chanted by a march on parliament with a much narrower vision of church’s role in society. It’s time the voice of the church was heard again in full resonance – we need to talk about ways that the church and government can work together for the common good.

We at FOCaL (Forum of the Christian Left) are pleased to announce that a conference has been planned to bring members of parliament and Christian leaders together to begin a process of dialogue about key issues ranging from social justice, the environment, taxation, peace issues and employment. Our conference is being co-sponsored by the Victoria University Religious Studies Department and all conference papers will be published by Stimulus.

Our confirmed list of speakers and panellists now includes Peter Lineham, Anthony Dancer, Amber Parry Strong, James Harding, Chris Marshall, Jim Anderton, Sue Moroney, Nandor Tanzcos, Marion Hobbs, Judy Turner, Jenny McIntosh, Tim Barnett, Chester Borrows, Gordon Copeland, Joris De Bres, Sue Kedgley, Alan Jamieson, Glyn Carpenter, plus others to be confirmed.

While the conference seeks mainly to provide a forum for progressive Christian voices any member of the public is welcome to attend and all constructive dialogue is welcomed
For further information about the conference please go to our website. www.focal.org.nz
For a registration form click here.
To ask a question email info@focal.org.nz ”

This will be a significant conference for the future of our country and one that in the interest of democratic responsibility your organisation should consider sending a reporter or representative to. There will be plenary sessions as well question and answer times and workshops that are designed to give space to many voices. If at all possible would you join us for this conference and encourage your colleagues and or representatives to attend. .

Grace and Peace

Steve O'Connor for FOCaL
ValleyBaptist Church
270 North Road Dunedin

Posted by Anonymous : 4/25/2006 01:38:00 PM

I've personally never felt that the Christian Left was excluded, or that its presence was or is negligible. And as for civil unions, Rome wasn't built in a day. Through enabling recognition of relationship rights and responsibilities, civil unions paved the way for eventual same-sex marriage (although not before adoption law reform and transgender anti-discrimination laws).

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/26/2006 09:13:00 AM

yeah. I'm so included. Never ever am I separate-but-equal, or whatever else we call segregation these days. For me, civil unions are crap. Either we are equal and can do everything that straight people can, or we are not, and we cannot. We got screwed out of equal status in society, and now, we're supposed to get all yay-so-happy about it.


Posted by Anonymous : 4/26/2006 10:52:00 AM

To quote Wayne Mapp, "democracy is about majorities" therefore this minority had/has no right to try an enforce their (to quote Pope Brian) "perversion" on the rest of us. It's easy for me to tell Mike that some progress is better than none, but I agree that "civil union" was invented to protect marriage from being sullied by homosexuality. Perhaps we should just abolish marriage and make every union a civil one?

A bit of trivia: The guy who wrote The Graduate divorced from his wife (mutually) in protest that their gay friends weren't able to marry.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/26/2006 12:58:00 PM

Mike: I agree - we should have amended the Marriage Act, but I think that some progress is better than none at all, and I think this will allow us to come back for a second go in five or ten years time.

PabloR: Civil unions (or indeed, amending the Marriage Act) are not about "enforcing" anything on anybody; to the contrary, they're about removing such enforcement, in the form of discriminatory barriers to recognised partnerships which send a clear message about the desirability of gay relationships vs straight ones. Such barriers simply have no place in a liberal society. Instead, consenting adults should be free to choose their own arrangements, and the state should not discriminate between them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 4/26/2006 01:24:00 PM

Wayne Mapp is wrong. Democracy is about everyone, but decisions are made by the people who show up; the Prime Minister, for instance is not the Prime Minister of the People Who Voted For Her. Wayne Mapp is also one of the central figures in this 'one law for all' joke that rich white men keep telling. I mean, I'm white...how come I don't feel so equal?

Because, I'm three-fifths a citizen. It's like in the US Constitution whent hey talk about doing a census and they say that slaves should count as three-fifths of a person.

I don't want to get married. I don't want to adopt any children right now. When Lyndon Johnson signed the Voter (voting?) Rights Act, he said "this will take us two generations and cost us the South". Some things are more important than politics.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/26/2006 02:13:00 PM

Personally, I don't want homosexuality to be sullied by marriage. Out of my dad's generation on his side of the family, he and mum celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary this year. They're also the only ones on his side of the family still together out of his two brothers, deceased sister and him. And my sister divorced after a year of marriage.

On the other hand, I've been happily partnered for the last four years...

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 4/29/2006 11:04:00 AM