Friday, July 29, 2011

Winning the prize

A New Zealand radio station is holding a competition in which marriage is the prize—but this time, it’s a good thing, offering a newly-legal same-sex wedding in New York City. I endorse it, especially since a couple of our niece’s friends are competing to be the fourth finalist couple (I voted for them—you can, too).

I’ve written about radio stations making marriage a prize twice before, both of them negatively: First was back in 2007 where one radio station’s stunt called for perfect strangers to get married as their prize, then again earlier this year when a different radio station ran a “Win A Wife” competition. My main gripe was that these contests trivialised marriage as something no different than winning a year’s supply of laundry detergent, or whatever.

This time it’s different—way different.

ZM, a pop station, is running “Same Sex in the City,” a competition in which a same-sex couple will win flights to New York (through Air New Zealand’s grabaseat), a week’s accommodation and a legal marriage. Listeners vote for the couples online (have I mentioned that I voted for our niece’s friends and you can, too?). Eight years ago, the station ran a similar competition, “My Bent Friend's Wedding”, in which they sent a same-sex couple to Hawaii and then aired their ceremony. Same-sex marriage wasn’t legal in Hawaii (and still isn’t), and the state didn’t even have its Marriage Lite civil unions law yet, so the ceremony was legally meaningless. New Zealand wouldn’t pass its own civil unions law for another couple years.

What I like about this competition is that it celebrates marriage equality by whisking a same-sex Kiwi couple off to New York to get married—something they can’t do here in New Zealand where marriage is restricted to opposite-sex couples only. However, it’s not clear whether the marriage will have any legal status whatsoever here in New Zealand: When civil unions were created, a handful of similar civil unions were recognised as such here, with regulations about others to be issued later. As far as I can tell, that never happened, nor any regulations about same-sex foreign marriages being downgraded to a civil union in New Zealand.

What’s clear is that New Zealand doesn’t recognise foreign same-sex marriages as marriages, and won’t until the country finally enacts full marriage equality some day. So, the best the winning couple can hope for is that New Zealand will recognise the foreign marriage as a civil union without the couple having to hold a separate civil union ceremony here in New Zealand.

Mind you, this is still better than any Australian couple could have. The country doesn’t yet have even civil unions like New Zealand’s, and the Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is strangely belligerent on the issue, determined for some odd reason to prevent any and all approval of marriage equality in Australia or for Australians overseas. In fact, her government is actively blocking same-sex marriages overseas.

Before marrying in the US, most foreign nationals need to get a “Certificate of Non-Impediment” (CNI) from their home country. A CNI establishes that the foreign national isn’t already married in their home country (in the US, marriage registrars can check the details of US citizens). This is usually a simple formality, but Gillard’s government is refusing to issue a CNI to any Australian planning a same-sex wedding—for no good or rational reason. They claim it’s because such marriages are illegal in Australia, but the purpose of a CNI is NOT to enforce one country’s laws in a foreign country, but merely to certify their citizen isn’t already married.

Gillard is also promising to block any moves from the Australian Labor Party members to get the party to commit to marriage equality, as polls indicate a majority of party members—and Australians generally—want. In fact, the only people who are intractably opposed to marriage equality would never, ever vote for Labor anyway, so what gives? Why is she pandering to the increasingly isolated far right on this issue? She’s an atheist who is not married to her partner, so clearly she has no religious objection to same-sex marriage, nor even a personal notion that it’s for men and ladies only. So, in the absence if any logical or rational reason, all I can say is that Gillard clearly has “issues”.

What all of this amounts to is that the radio station contest, nice as it is, actually serves to underscore the real problems that married same-sex couples experience. New Zealand should do its part to fix this problem by enacting full marriage equality. So should Australia, no matter how much Julia Gillard kicks and screams about it. Gay citizens should be treated equally by their countries, and without full marriage equality, they aren’t.

Still, I like the idea of the contest. Despite it all, I’m a romantic at heart, and I believe in the power of love to overcome all obstacles.

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