The Same Sex Marriage Second Reading

Tired and delighted that the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill passed its second reading by 77 votes to 44. That means 64% of MPs voted for it and 36% against. Four MPs swapped from yes to no (Brownlee, McCully, Coleman, McKelvie) and Huo went from abstain/absent to a yes (he explains why here).

I expect that the third reading will be by much the same number. Second reading is the stage where normally some people may shift their vote based on what has happened during the select committee process.

So let’s cover the evening from the beginning. I have to say I really love Parliament when it is debating a conscience issue – you get MPs speaking with passion about what they really believe and think, a massive difference from most bill debates which are relatively pro-forma. It really is Parliament at its best.

Due to the unexpected need to debate the Budget Policy Statement, it was far from clear at the beginning of the day if the marriage bill would conclude its second reading. To do so Parliament had to get through question time, the Budget Policy Statement, a third reading, a committee stage, half a second reading and then the marriage bill second reading.

Few people wanted to have the debate cut in half where it starts yesterday and concludes in two weeks, so with some astute MPs taking shorter calls than they could on earlier debates, the marriage bill debate started just after 8 pm.

The gallery was packed. And I mean packed – there was a queue to get in forming around 7 pm, and they ran out of seats so allowed many to just stand at the back of the public galleries. I wasn’t sure how many were supporters and how many were opponents, but noticed that the vast majority were young Kiwis. This is very rare in the gallery, and great to see.

I may have joked that probably all the women there were lesbians or fundamentalist Christians, which reduced my chances of scoring. A lesbian friend consoled me with the thought that there may be some bisexuals there 🙂

There were 12 speakers on the bill. They were in order:

  1. (Lab) – in favour
  2. Tim Macindoe (Nat) against
  3. Ruth Dyson (Lab) – in favour
  4. (Nat) – in favour
  5. Trevor Mallard (Lab) – in favour
  6. Winston Peters (NZF) – against, sought to send to referendum
  7. Kevin Hague (Green) – in favour
  8. Kanwaljit Bakshi (Nat) – against
  9. Lianne Dalziel (Lab) – in favour
  10. Tau Henare (Nat) – in favour
  11. Jan Logie (Green) – in favour
  12. Chester Borrows (Nat) against

There were two common themes in the speeches. The first was that MPs were generally very respectful of the passionate views on this issue. Those in favour spoke of their desire to respect religious views and the safeguards that had been placed in the bill to help with that. Those against spoke of how touching some of the testimony had been, but what their concerns were with the change. There was, for the main part, no name calling or insinuations about motives. It was a good debate.

The second theme was about how the communications from some of those oppossed to the bill had not helped their cause – and that came from MPs who were against the bill. There was a strong message there.

The draft Hansard is here. I could quote and critique every speech, but will just touch on a couple. Tim Macindoe said:

A common theme of many emails from the bill’s supporters, given that my Christian faith was and remains the main reason for my position, was that ours is a secular society and my faith should be left out of the debate. I understand that view but in matters of conscience one must fall back on firm foundations. To ignore what I perceive to be God’s will in this debate would therefore be unthinkable, even though I acknowledge that not all Christians think as one in this matter and I agree with Glyn Carpenter in the New Zealand Christian Network that Christians must approach this matter graciously and with respect.

It’s good that Tim was explicit that he voted against because he thinks it goes against God’s will. The question for me is whether what some people interpret to be God’s will should be a reason to impose that view through legislation. That is a slippery slope that leads to (for example) sharia law in some countries, based on what their MPs think is God’s will. Until such a time as God speaks for himself on such issues, I can’t agree with laws based on God’s will.

Last year I indicated that a principal reason for my opposition was my concern that Parliament is moving ahead of the churches on this issue.

If Parliament didn’t move ahead of churches on various issues, we’d be in the dark ages. The churches wanted homosexuality to effectively remain a criminal offence. The 1986 law change was well ahead of the churches – yet almost no one today says that law change was wrong.

The best speech of the night was National MP Chris Auchinvole. I’ve embedded the speech below and recommend it highly for a great listen. Just as Paul Hutchison was the stand out of the first reading, Auchie was the stand out of the second reading. Interestingly while generally support for allowing is greater amongst younegr New Zealanders and less so amongst over 60s, it is worth noting Hutch is 65 and Auchie 67.

A couple of quotes:

Although I cannot imagine, if the bill passes, that a particularly large percentage of the population will suddenly take the opportunity to engage in same-gender marriages, I also cannot imagine that any number would make one iota of difference to the 41 years of marriage that my wife and I have enjoyed, or to anybody else’s heterosexual marriage. I cannot see it. I have thought deeply about this and cannot believe that the social impact of the bill would herald the demise and collapse of the wider societal values in New Zealand. I respect the right of those who wish to hold to that view, but I cannot give it currency in coming to a defined position on this bill.

Having a few more married couples in New Zealand will be good for society in my view!

Another grouping held a perception that this is counter to religious views and practices and represents State interference in religious practice, beliefs, and dogma. The select committee listened very carefully and sincerely to the concerns expressed. As someone who had 5 years as a lay minister for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa / New Zealand and was a member of the council of assembly for the Presbyterian Church, I had a particular interest in this aspect of the discussion. It became clear through listening that the overriding concern is that the clergy and those authorised by religious bodies to conduct marriages would be obliged—indeed, forced—to conduct ceremonies for same-gender couples should the bill be passed.

And the amendments make clear this can not happen.

The third consideration—we have heard it spoken by my colleague and friend Tim Macindoe this evening—is that marriage is an institution: time honoured, never changing, and having the essential components of one man and one woman common to all countries and civilisations throughout the millennia until death do them part.

It ain’t necessarily so. I am privileged to have my wife in the gallery tonight. My wife and I married on 11 March, 41 years ago last Monday, and lived happily ever after. But the question that exercises the upper echelons of ecclesiastic minds in those days was whether or not the bride should take a vow of obedience to her husband. If you are marrying a red-headed West Coast girl from a West Coast aristocratic family, some hope. During that same time, to have children born out of wedlock was a hamper to church marriage, as was a divorce, or indeed wanting to marry someone of a different religion. Banns of marriage were called from pulpits, advising that people were intending marriage, and others were invited to give reasons why that marriage should not proceed or to forever hold their peace. Marriage is not an unchanging institution, and although most of its institutional aspects have been laudable for men, they have often been less than favourable for women.

And other speakers touched on how just a few decades ago some states in the US banned inter-racial marriage.

The last two aspects I wish to touch on are the matter of conscience and the question of family coming first. In terms of conscience, I have given much, much thought to this. I am acquainted with guilt. Being a Presbyterian, one goes through life thinking that one has not worked hard enough, has not done enough, and has not reached the requirement that life’s opportunities offer, and you will always get other members who will tell you that, as one did this evening. To assuage my conscience on this issue, I delved back in my life to the age of understanding, which I think those of Catholic persuasion tell me the Jesuits determine it is at 7 years old, when I was a boy. I looked at catechismic values—learning the catechism by rote in Glasgow: “Who made you? God made me. Why did God make you? God made me to know him and love him.” The third question: “What image did God make you in?” The answer: “God made me in his own image.” Every 7-year-old boy and girl said the same, and believed it was true. They did not have to add: “as long as I conform to being heterosexual, and not to loving anyone of the same gender as myself.” My conscience is very clear on this issue. Every person has the same spiritual claim as one another, to being made in the image of God, and it will take a braver person than I am to deny that.

Wonderfully said.

So, in dealing with the legacy of discriminatory prejudice, and I would not want that to be a deciding feature, I prayerfully ask to be able to internalise and resolve this complicated situation in my head, in my heart, and in my soul.

Heh.

What I learnt from listening to the submissions, colleagues, was that in fact each homosexual, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender person appearing before us was not to be seen just as an individual, not to be identified just by gender preference, but in fact seen as a mother’s son or a daughter, and a father’s daughter or son, as siblings to their brothers and sisters, grandchildren to their grandparents, nephews and nieces to their uncles and aunts, and uncles and aunts to their nephews and nieces, and cousins to their cousins. They are all family, along with their heterosexual friends and relations, and all are an integral part of the New Zealand family, and all are part—in my mind, in my heart, and in my conscience—of God’s family. I now realise that this bill seeks to put first something that critics have accused it of undermining, and that isempt to b the family. We as parliamentarians should not simply look past the interests of the applicants for this bill. We should not simply look at their interests. We should, and we must, look after their interests. We should pass this bill.

I’m so glad I was in the House (galleries) for this speech. Television doesn’t do justice to the atmosphere. The sympathetic nods from around the House, the claps and smiles, the laughter, the intense interest. It was again my favourite speech of the night.

One saw this also with the next speech by Winston Peters. As he was calling for a referendum, he railed against “politicians who think they know best” and said “There is nothing more odious, more loathsome, than politicians who think they know best”. What wouldn’t have been captured by cameras is that there was spontaneous laughter from almost the entire public galleries as Winston was railing against politicians who think they know best, as it was self-evident to everyone that Winston is of course the classic politician who always thinks he knows best. The laughter wasn’t deliberate or an attempt to be disrespectful – it was just a spontaneous outbreak as his speech almost became self-parody unwittingly.

Anyway we got to the votes at around 9.45 pm. There were actually three votes. They were:

  1. To accept the select committee report and proposed amendments.
  2. Winston’s amendment to the second reading motion proposing a referendum at the next general election in place of reading the bill a second time.
  3. The motion that the bill be read a second time and proceed

The first vote passed 66 to 21. I think the whips may have been unaware that there are always two distinct votes at second readings and they only had proxy votes to cover the second reading vote but not to cover the accept the select committee report vote.

The amendment by Peters for a referendum went down 33 to 83. It was an interesting quirk of standing orders that while you can not amend a bill at second reading, you can amend the motion for it to pass its second reading.

The final vote was the key one, and the Assistant Speaker announced it passed 77-44. There was a round of applause but fairly muted as the galleries had been warned not to participate in the business of the House. However once the House was adjourned the entire public galleries rose spontaneously to give a sustained standing ovation to the House and MPs. It was quite electric, and I suddenly realised as I looked around the galleries that I think every single person there was in fact a supporter of the bill as they were all standing and applauding.

Afterwards had a great time celebrating, which David Cunliffe had fun facebooking photos of 🙂

Got to sleep around 2.30 am.  Will finish this post with a quote from Chester Borrows who in fact voted against the bill. But he made a good point:

As a Christian—a conservative Christian—I find it abhorrent the way that Christians have entered into this debate, and the threatening nature with which they have emailed colleagues. I know of colleagues who have set out thinking they will vote against this bill and who have changed their mind because of the way they have been treated by Christians, supposedly worshipping in their daily lives and witness a loving God. If they profess to worship that God, then it is a different God whom I worship and whom I believe in, because they have shown nothing of that love—that all-encompassing love—in the way that they have conducted themselves in this debate. It is unfortunate that in every debate where fundamentalist Christians get involved in lobbying one side or another, they always bring out the worst, and seek to have those people who do not hold to our faith shove us into a pigeon-hole that would brand us all in the same way. I think that is a despicable way for people of faith to behave.

I know a number of MPs whose support for the bill was lukewarm, but they became more staunch in support of the bill due to some of the appalling e-mails they got from some opponents.

Luckily it will hopefully all be over in April.

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