A change in opinion around the world

The House of Representatives will tomorrow vote on the second reading of Louisa Wall’s bill which will allow same sex couples to marry. I’ve blogged previously on the issues involved, and want to focus on the quite remarkable change in opinions on this issue around the world.

Consider that just over 25 years ago, consensual adult sex between two men was illegal. And today Parliaments all around the world are saying that same sex couples should be able to marry.

Micah Cohen of 538 looks at the latest poll in California. In 2003 support for same sex marriage was just 42%. A decade later it is 61%. Just four years ago California voted in favour of banning same sex marriage. A vote today would inevitably see that reversed.

Polling Report has an archive of all US polls on this issue. The CBS poll has support nationally go from 46% to 54% in just one year.

Looking at other countries:

  • Canada voted 175-123 in 2006 to maintain same-sex marriage, A 2012 poll showed 66% support
  • Opinion in the US Gallup poll has gone from 25% in 1996 to 53%
  • Maine voted 53%, Maryland 52% and Washington 54% in 2012 referenda to allow same sex marriage
  • Recent polls in Australia show support for same sex marriage at around 65%
  • The French lower house last month voted to allow same-sex marriage by 329 to 229. The most recent polls show 65% in support.
  • Support in Germany for same sex marriage was 66% in a poll two months ago
  • Support in Ireland for same sex marriage is at 73%
  • The UK House of Commons voted 400 to 175 in favour of same sex marriage. Public support is 55% in favour to 36% against
  • Her Majesty the Queen signalling her support for non-discrimination against gay men and women

So what does this all mean in my view?

  1. Within a few years same sex marriage will be legal in pretty much every English-speaking country and most European countries.
  2. Support for allowing same sex marriage will continue to rise at the incredibly fast rate it has been. This is because there is a huge age differential on this issue. Support amongst those aged under 30 is often well over 3:1 and the only age group opposed (if any) tends to be over 60s
  3. I predict there will not be a single MP who votes for same sex marriage will will regret that vote.
  4. The fact that so many MPs who voted against homosexual law reform in the 1980s and civil unions more recently have later said they regret their vote, suggests that the same will apply with the vote on same sex marriage.

On that last point, it is worth reflecting that just a few weeks ago the former Speaker, Lockwood Smith, said how much he regretted voting against homosexual law reform. In fact I doubt you can find a single MP who voted against it, who still thinks they were right to do so.

We saw the same with Civil Unions. Don Brash has said how much he regrets swapping his vote to vote against civil unions. Even the PM, John Key, has indirectly indicated he regrets voting against civil unions (he says he was following his electorate, not his own views). And I know many others who voted against, and now say they agree they were a good thing. It is ironic that the existence of civil unions is used as a justification by some to vote against same sex marriage, because of course they were against civil unions also.

There is no real question that Louisa Wall’s bill will pass second reading. The only real issue will be by how much, and who voted which way. So my concern is not the bill passing into law. My concern is that a number of MPs may come to sincerely regret how they voted, as so many others before them have on similar issues. We should learn the lessons of history, not repeat them.

Look if an MP genuinely truly believes that same sex marriage will be very bad for New Zealand, then of course they should vote against. I believe MPs should vote with their conscience and with their true beliefs. I disagree with those beliefs and think they are wrong on this issue, but I can respect people who stand by what they believe (within reason).

But some MPs don’t have strong views on the issue. They are focused on economic issues, education, health etc. They don’t see the the issue of same sex marriage as a burning issue for them.

And to some degree I agree – as much as I support same sex marriage – I far from think it is the biggest priority for the Government and Parliament. I regard the economy, education, welfare reform etc as more critical issues.

But regardless it is now up for the second reading vote. This is automatic under standing orders, and MPs now have to vote on it.

If you’re an MP who doesn’t have a strong view on the issue, my advice is simply to think about whether in 10 years time you want to be explaining to the many married same sex couples (and their friends) why you voted to ban them from being able to marry?

As an issue, it may not be as important as the economy, jobs, welfare reform etc but for many people it is a deeply personal issue. Effectively telling 6% of the country that they should remain unable to marry is something that does matter to them. And it does matter to their friends also.

We saw yesterday all eight youth wings advocate in favour of same sex couples being able to marry. That is an extraordinary thing. But it reflects the world they live in, which is the world of the future – as we see around the globe.

Almost all younger New Zealanders have some gay friends. They had gay friends at school, had gay friends at university, work with gay colleagues. They, for the most part, can’t understand why some of their friends should be able to marry, but not all of them. They don’t think that having more of their friends able to marry, will undermine their own future marriages.

As I said, there is a global and frankly irreversible trend in the “Western” world on this issue. Future generations will be just as bemused by the fact that once upon a time same sex couples couldn’t marry, as today’s generation are bemused by the fact that once women couldn’t vote.

I just wonder in the end, why would you want to be on the wrong side of history?

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