A guest post by Green Party MP Kevin Hague:
One of the striking things about the submissions – both written and oral – received against the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill was the very high degree of support that now exists for acknowledging and extending rights to same-sex couples through the mechanism of civil unions. This stands in stark contrast to the positions many of these same people took when the Civil Unions Bill itself was being debated.
There’s more: the now popular Civil Union Act passed its Third Reading by only 65-55, and just a couple of days before, a 3News poll found 46% of people in support, while 45% opposed.
In fact what all this shows is that Civil Unions followed the same path as Homosexual Law Reform and protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Certainly there is a group of people whose opposition to these measures is based on dogma of some sort, usually a religious one. These folk try to live their lives according to a particular code based on a set of rules (and believe that everybody else should also, regardless of belief). But probably the larger group of opponents is one whose opposition is motivated by fear: either of a general sort or of specific undesirable outcomes should the law reform succeed.
Opposition based on fear has always been temporary. Before each of these previous reforms a significant proportion of the population were led to believe that it would tear the fabric of our society in some awful way. But, surprise, surprise, the sky did not fall. And now it is only a very small group who believe gay sex should be illegal, who believe it should be legal to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or who believe same-sex couples should not be able to have their relationships acknowledged and protected.
Perhaps unsurprisingly I am writing about this because, once again, the same dynamics are at work in the opposition to marriage equality. There is a group of people, almost exclusively from particular religious faiths, who strongly and sincerely believe that marriage is fundamentally an institution that should be defined by their own particular dogma. They usually say the State has no right to determine who can marry, and seem oblivious even to other religious faiths whose dogma supports marriage equality. They are fundamentally theocrats and oppose pluralism, one of the basic ideas of modern society. Their position does not seem to be one that can be influenced by logic or evidence.
But the larger group of opponents is, as usual, one motivated by fear. Typically they have been encouraged to hold these fears by those who know better and who are exploiting them. Most of the ‘arguments’ made against marriage equality, including most of the amendments proposed to the Bill have been based on imaginary fears:
- No celebrant will be forced to solemnise a marriage against their will. The law states that no celebrant is obliged to marry a particular couple. This has been the law since 1955 and the “right to refuse” has never been denied.
- No church will be forced to use its religious space for same-sex weddings if it does not approve of them, or do anything at all differently.
- Nobody will be forced to say anything different, or not to express their beliefs. In fact the Bill will repeal s.56, which, while never used, made it an offence to deny the validity of a legally-conducted marriage. Despite the histrionics of some, nobody will be sent to prison for their beliefs.
- The ethical and legal obligations for teachers will not change in any way. There are professional requirements that influence how teachers can and cannot express their personal views to students. The Bill does not change these.
- Children will not be “denied the right to their biological mother and father”. Married same-sex couples being able to adopt will almost exclusively affect children who are already being raised by same-sex couples (there are thousands, by the way) who currently have less security because of the relatively precarious legal status of their parents. The number of children made available for “stranger adoption” each year (who by definition are not being raised by their biological parents) is tiny. This Bill will have the effect that when the biological parents of a child choose adoptive parents, married same-sex couples can also be considered.
What will actually happen once this Bill passes is that some same-sex couples will choose to get married. Some of those will do so in churches that welcome them. Others will find independent celebrants they like, and who like them. People will be happier. And in time, as has happened everywhere else in the world where this reform has already occurred, most New Zealanders who currently oppose marriage equality will realise that their fears were groundless, and join the majority who already believe that, well, love is love.
What I found interesting that the when the Civil Unions Bill was being passed, public opinion was so evenly divided. Yet less than a decade later there is almost no opposition to civil unions, and in fact opponents of same sex marriage cite civil unions as so good, that there is no need to change the marriage law.
I’ll make a prediction. That by 2020, fewer than 20% of New Zealanders will be saying that they are opposed to same sex marriages being legal.