Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on last night’s same sex marriage debate

August 30th, 2012

Once again, when Parliament went into conscience vote mode last night on a contentious issue, the quality of debate markedly improved – as MPs briefly managed to escape from their usual role of being fodder for pre-set party positions. At times, there was even genuine tension about the unpredictability of it all. When, for instance, the likes of National’s Paul Hutchison rose to speak he was widely expected to vote against Louisa Wall’s Marriage Amendment Bill, but Hutchison said instead that he could find no intellectual, moral, health or spiritual grounds for refusing to support it. For good measure, Hutchison added that it had been discussions with the Greens’ Kevin Hague and Labour’s Maryan Street about the damage done to gay/lesbian/transgender teens by discrimination and bullying is what had convinced him to change his mind. Heady stuff. On such occasions, one can almost wish that all votes in the House should be conscience votes. Or at least dual votes – here’s what my party expects of me, and here’s what I expect of myself.

Other highlights – the speech by Labour’s David Clark, a former Presbyterian minister, who began with an interesting anecdote about an older gay person in his electorate who urged him to vote against it – on the grounds that his fight had been to achieve civil unions, and he wanted no truck with the historical baggage entailed with marriage, thank you very much. In a clever and thoughtful speech, Clark drew upon his church background to strike a balance both between the differing religious points of view on the issue, and with the human rights issues involved, before voting to support the Bill. It was Clark’s speech I think that also mentioned in passing the pragmatic rationale that when traveling, some people still face discrimination if they cannot tick the “married” box required by foreign officialdom. It was a nice touch of realism among some of the headier flights of idealism.

Labour’s Su’a William Sio and National’s Tim McIndoe both voiced their opposition with dignity and eloquence. McIndoe has become the standard bearer for the conservative opposition and –while decent and humane in his recognition of the impulses behind Wall’s Bill – he somewhat disappointingly failed to muster an argument that went much beyond tradition and hurt feelings. Marriage in McIndoe’s world always has been something only between A Man and A Woman, and many of his constituents feel very strongly that way. End of story.

Still when McIndoe’s National colleague and Wairarapa MP John Hayes did try to put up a contrary argument, you almost wished that he hadn’t made the effort. To Hayes, the whole thing was a product of the dastardly social reformers within Labour’s ranks. And moreover….allow the state to issue a marriage licence to same sex couples, Hayes darkly suggested and where would it all end? Re-define marriage once, and what was to stop it from being re-defined again? Would the state be condoning incest next? Thankfully, even Hayes stopped short of revealing whether any of his constituents over in the Wairarapa were harbouring fears that the socialists have even darker intentions involving our four legged ‘friends’ in mind.

Hayes can usually be relied on to provide the low point in any debate but last night that honour fell to Winston Peters, who refused to engage in the conscience vote process or with Wall’s Bill at all. His older constituency would probably have welcomed seeing their champion oppose the Bill, but that would have tested New Zealand First’s party unity, so Peters sought to kick for touch and call for a national referendum on the issue. It looked pretty shabby, on a night when for an hour at least, other MPs were trying to rise above business as usual.

The voting pattern was fairly predictable. No surprise that Catholic conservatives such as Bill English opposed Wall’s Bill. More surprising to some that National’s token liberal Chris Finlayson – also a Catholic and reportedly, also gay – voted against it. As did Tony Ryall. Unfortunately, the Act Party’s John Banks did not get to speak. As a self professed believer in the literal truth of the Old Testament, Banks would have to be a Leviticus man through and through on this issue, at heart. Yet even though Wall’s Bill first reading vote was a conscience vote, Banks could hardly vote according to his conscience without violating his party’s socially liberal stance on individual rights. So, last night, he cast a proxy vote in support. (Act’s libertarian impulses begin and end with economic rights and lifestyle issues. It routinely votes to increase the powers of the Police and intelligence agencies.) Alas, last night, we were denied the entertaining sight of Banks trying to juggle his Bible backed conscience with his party’s commitment to certain secular freedoms. Perhaps we’ll get that chance at the second reading.

So what now? The Bill goes to select committee, with a full, head of steam from its 84 to 40 majority that should be hard to turn around. Among the issues flagged in speeches last night and likely to arise again at select committee: whether same sex married couples can or should be constrained as to the gender of the child they can adopt. (I think it was Tim McIndoe who raised this point.) Or, on what grounds the Human Rights Commission might balance in future the rights of freedom of religion against the right to be free from discrimination. In other words, if Wall’s Bill becomes law and the state issues a licence to marry to a same sex couple and a church or celebrant refuses to marry them citing religious grounds, which right will then prevail under the HRA if an impasse occurs and is challenged? Ending discrimination by the state could prove to have been the easy part.


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    1. 15 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on last night’s same sex marriage debate”

    2. By Pete George on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      “and a church or celebrant refuses to marry them citing religious grounds,”

      This seems to be yet another hypothetical. What’s different to what could happen now?

      I suspect there are a few priests and celebrants who wouldn’t be comfortable marrying me – but I think I’d have the sense to find an appropriate celebrant. So should everyone else.

    3. By Grant on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      So with children in New Zealand lacking food and people without shelter MP’s think that to muscle the Church is a priority.
      The Church may or may not approve of or recognize homosexual PERSONAL relationships. Why look to the State and Church for validation of a personal relationship?
      Marriage is not a human right.

      Its love, its already legal, and it is real as long as the relationship lasts,(same as different sex relationships), no one can say its not and no one can say what that relationship is to you personally.

      Marriage is not a human right.
      Food, shelter, and medical care are needs and much more important than some privileged and well positioned people getting their wants.

    4. By Alan Ivory on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      Interesting proposition that gay couples might be restricted in the gender of any children they adopt. Such a proposition applied to straight couples (and if it’s right for gay couples, it must be right for straight ones as well) would mean straight couples could never adopt.

    5. By Graeme Edgeler on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      Grant – the right of men and women to marry is listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

    6. By Grant on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      Sorry Graeme I interpreted it as it was intended not in lawyer speak.
      Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.
      I can marry a Corporation, after we’ve define marriage.
      The definition of marriage in our culture is not one of man and man.
      So after you change the definition Graeme you will be right.

    7. By clairbear on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      Two things I like about this.

      (1) we had a word in law that was not defined, simply because it needed no definition because everyone knew what it meant. Now however someone has come up with a new meaning for the word and so we have to have a “Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill” to define that which needed no definition, in a different way to what everyone understood it to be.

      (2)In terms of popular support going on polls. In the end the main reason is that people want to say that they are married not that they are “Civil Unionised”. Pretty insignificant in terms of outcome for the country and New Zealand is a place were we like people to just get on with it. But the most interesting thing is the “Political Me too-ness” of this. I think the decision was swayed as soon as John Key came out in favour of it. Which makes me think that some of this support is just a political ploy to spread credit or blame (depending on your point of view), removing to some extent the “Party” focus even though a conscious vote.

    8. By suret on Aug 30, 2012 | Reply

      They are not mutually exclusive items. Hence why a living wage is being sought at the same time as gay marriage.

    9. By Chuck Bird on Aug 31, 2012 | Reply

      I think Winston’s speech was the best one in the debate. I am not a NZF voter or member and have been very critical of him over a number of issues. However, he realises if he just goes along with an outdated political system we will end up with more socially engineered legislation that John Key had said we would not likely have under him. f these last two issues were put to a binding referendum there would almost certainly be a different result.

      The proponents of this bill have argued that the definition of marriage is outdated. I would argue that the system of conscience votes started in the late eighteenth century is outdated. It was at a time when all MPs represented constituents. Now half of them do not. The other change is that the electorate is much more informed. Many people have access to NZ legislation and Hansard at their fingertips. The terms of reference have been set to narrow on the review of the MMP system but MPs do not give away perks or power easily.

    10. By John on Aug 31, 2012 | Reply

      I agree with Chuck. I’m not a NZF/Winston fan and I’m not gay or an ‘oldie’ but in this case I think he’s right. There should never be conscience votes because if its down to personal choice we should all get a say issue by issue and the only way to do this is by binding referendum. For gay marriage it appears that the public are for it so it would probably pass anyway which I personally don’t have a problem with. The public also seem to want a raise in the drinking age but because a few pollies decided against it, the public majority is defeated. Personally I don’t mind the age staying at 18 bit is that democracy at work when the minority rule? I get that like many you don’t like Winston but to dump on him/NZF for everything he says rather than to look at the merits of the issue is not balanced journalism. I’m not pro greens or the maori party either but sometimes even they (like NZF) have valid arguments about certain issues.

    11. By Grant on Aug 31, 2012 | Reply

      A living wage ( call it a “trying to keeping up with inflation, taxes and bankers wage” ) how do you find it inclusive with a gay marriage?

      What has bothered me the most is that gay Labour MP”s are acting with self interest ( and extreme vigor) claiming they are being discriminated against as they falsely claim gay marriage is a human right and will try to force the Church to marry them by changing the law. While the Mana Party act on a real need, such as selflessly trying to prevent removal of state houses in the Auckland suburb of Glen Innes.
      This is an example of right and wrong motives in action, I think Labour has lost the plot( I hate to say this but even Key told you it was not a priority ).

      Gay marriage by the church is not a need or a human right(*hey in ancient Greece Graeme you would be right ).
      There was selfish motive and it was treated as though it is a priority and a need for this country.

    12. By Joe Blow on Aug 31, 2012 | Reply

      Quilter v Attorney-General

      Go Justice Thomas! Go NZ! About time!

    13. By Form on Sep 1, 2012 | Reply

      The link Mr Blow that permits of no other interpretation than that of marriage between a man and a woman was from 1997.

      Its very much about redefining marriage in New Zealand.
      * and securing the affluent liberal voter.

      We all want that elusive equality but yet we insist on seeing differences.

    14. By Karen on Sep 3, 2012 | Reply

      So, Graeme (above) has established that marriage is indeed a human right. Also, equal treatment before the law is a human right and one of the fundamentals of a decent society.

    15. By Grant on Sep 3, 2012 | Reply

      Karen in 1970 society (we were not decent) as psychiatry diagnosed gay people as mentally ill.
      My points are not being understood. I alone am not society and nor are minority groups the totality of society , it is society’s meaning of marriage that counts (or should be changed).
      ts good Graeme believes marriage means “Men and men” or “woman and woman”. Karen where do you stop inequality – for is polygamy not a marriage?
      In the matter of law I say what society believes counts, ( you can change minds by changing the definition). Don’t do this by claiming discrimination when we all have the right and freedom to engage in personal relationships with whatever sex without punishment.
      I am for equal treatment and the happiness of all.
      I also believe that it is an indecent priority and as there are people who,( because they are not affluent), are being bullied and REALLY do have their human rights violated.
      A decent society does not further the interests of the wealthy while the poor are punished for Wall streets economic crash. Is it decent that poor removed from their homes in a social engineering project that increases the wealth of rich developers.
      Clarity in perception is important (and the need for homeless shelters continues to be ignored as the affluent and powerful selfishly feel it is not a priority) and if we keep saying we want to be decent while working on wants and not needs we continue this the delusion of separatism .

    16. By Joe Blow on Sep 3, 2012 | Reply

      @ Form

      Yeah, most of the Court of Appeal were too meek to reinterpret the definition marriage judicially and ruled that it was something that Parliament had to change. Only His Honour Justice Thomas was brave enough to differ and it’s taken nearly 15 years for Parliament to finally begin to put his minority view into legislation.

      About time I say!

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