The end of the same sex marriage debate

Well, the debate finished at 9.30 pm last night, but the celebrations carried on much longer. I got home at 4 am and finished the night with a quarter pounder at McDonalds – my first one in around a year and a half! It was badly needed to soak up the alcohol – and oh yeah it tasted great! Fuck, I’ve missed them 🙂

It is hard to put into words how much joy and happiness there was last night. Many issues just impact people indirectly or abstractly, but this was an issue which had massive importance to many many individual New Zealanders. You can’t really understand the significance of this law change to those affected, unless you are in their shoes.  I was privileged enough to have a huge number of people come up to me last night and share their stories and emotions about what this means to them. It often goes to the core of self-worth, aspirations for a happy future etc. Thank you to everyone who shared with me – it was also great to meet so many previously unknown readers. Some of the exchanges were surreal – such as the young woman at McDonalds who just patted me on the head as she walked past our table and said “marriage equality rocks”. No idea who she was.

Last night reinforced for me my total lack of doubt that this law change was a good thing to do. On most issues, I have some doubts. I think charter schools should provide some better educational outcomes for some students – but I am of course not certain. Likewise I think having private shareholdings in SOEs will be better for the NZ economy – but it is not guaranteed. Almost all issues have trade-offs.

People go into politics with a genuine desire to make their country a better place. I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about what is the meaning of life etc. We only get to have 80 – 100 years. Over the course of history all but a few individuals are pretty insignificant So what should life be about? Is existence a bit pointless? In the end my conclusions are that our aim should be to make ourselves happy, and make other people happy. Life is here to be enjoyed.

I accept some people are unhappy at a conceptual level that gay couples will be able to marry. But for me that unhappiness is absolutely dwarfed by the immense joy this law change brings to gay and lesbian (etc) New Zealanders. I saw it last night in the gallery at Parliament, in the Grand Hall afterwards, down at S&M and Ivys on Cuba Street. They were not celebrating it as a political victory, but a personal one. It wasn’t like the enjoyment you get when the political party you favour wins an election. It was that personal sense of gaining of rights and equality – the symbolism and hope that they as an individual could one day get married. While the law change was a political act, don’t think that the motivations of those in favour were political – it was for many very personal.

For me personally, it has no effect. I am heterosexual. But I’m glad I have a well developed enough empathy that just seeing and sharing other people’s happiness made last night very special to me. As I said, you get involved in politics to try and make NZ a place where more people have happy lives.

From 1840 to 1867, homosexual activity in NZ wasn’t just illegal but was punishable by death. 145 years later, same sex couples can marry. We have come a very long way as a country.

Now the campaign is over, I also want to touch on the political side of the issue. They say that success has many fathers and failure is an orphan. Well that is true but in terms of this issue there are in fact many people who played an important role, and I want to touch on some of them.

First and foremost are Louisa Wall and Kevin Hague. They ran an inclusive positive campaign that was focused on the issue, and left party politics to one side. It can be a bit strange at first working with people from parties you spend half you time criticising, but they were nothing but warm, focused and professional. I regard them both as very good people, and the bill would not have passed with the support it had, without their leadership roles. I’ve seen many a good issue fail, because the political management of the campaign was sub-standard. Louisa and Kevin made a great team and their quiet calm persuasive styles convinced a number of MPs to support the bill on its merits.

On National’s side, many MPs made significant contributions. Hutch, Auckie and Maurice provided the standout speeches for each reading. PM John Key’s support was of incalculable value. The tone of the debate and the margin would have been very different without his support (even though I thinki it would have still passed). I must make special mention of three National MPs who contributed so much behind the scenes – Tau, Jami-Lee and Nikki. The three of them put in a huge amount of work to make sure the bill passed last night. I won’t get into the details of all the issues around votes, proxies, amendments, calls, scheduling and the like.

Also on the National side, two non MPs deserve special mention. Megan Campbell and Shaun Wallis showed you do not have to be an MP to make a positive and significant impact on politics. Megan’s contribution was immense – from lobbying MPs, to speech notes, to fact sheets, rebuttal points, procedural advice and much more. She must be the most effective lobbyist around at the moment – and she was working for free!

Shaun Wallis, and many other Young Nats, also contributed a great deal. If you’re a young person and wondering if young people can have an impact. Well consider that Young Nats have had a significant role in getting the VSM law passed, stopping the alcohol purchase age increasing to 20, and helping with the numbers on this law. When I was a Young Nat I don’t think Shane Frith and I achieved anything much beyond annoying Jim Bolger on a regular basis 🙂

Also kudos to all the youth wings who took part in the joint press statement for first reading and the joint press conference for second reading. The unity of youth on the issue was very powerful, and had great resonance with the media and MPs.

Andrew Burns did an amazing job with social media on the campaign. I was staggered by the reach of the campaign’s congratulatory message on Facebook. Within an hour of the vote, I think the message had reached almost half a million people and been shared by over 5,000 to all their networks.

Also Conrad Reyners had a difficult job, which he did so well. In a campaign the challenge isn’t just to get your supporters to do things – often it is to also stop them from doing things. A few overly enthusiastic supporters who go over the top with their rhetoric can damage your own side significantly (as opponents found out). Conrad and the wider campaign team ran a very disciplined, positive on message campaign.

Amusing end to the night was in McDonalds with Conrad close to 4 am, when we realised it was all over, and he said that he can now go back to hating me as fascist scum, and vice-versa him as a pinko commie 🙂

Life now goes back to normal, and life goes on for the country also – except in four months time expect an increase in the number of couples getting married in New Zealand!

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