Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Second step done

Marriage equality is now one step closer to becoming law in New Zealand. Today Parliament’s Government Administration Committee recommended the bill be passed.

The recommendation was by majority vote, as was the determination that “marriage is a human right, and that it is unacceptable for the state to deny this right to same-sex couples.” The minority felt it’s not a human right, so it’s okay to discriminate against same-gender couples.

Religion is, of course, the obstacle to marriage equality wherever it has been considered. The committee said, “It is our intention that the passage of this bill should not impact negatively upon people’s religious freedoms,” but it also stated quite clearly: “The Marriage Act enables people to become legally married; it does not ascribe moral or religious values to marriage. The bill seeks to extend the legal right to marry to same-sex couples; it does not seek to interfere with people’s religious freedoms.”

To ensure it doesn’t they’re proposing to amend the bill to clarify the exemption clause. At the moment, it reads: “A marriage licence shall authorize but not oblige any marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage to which it relates.” Even though official advice is that this section protects ministers of religion from having to perform marriages for same-gender couples, the religious right insisted ministers would be “forced” to perform such marriages against their will or beliefs. Yeah, like that would ever happen.

The new subsection (2) would read:
"Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), no celebrant who is a minister of religion recognised by a religious body enumerated in Schedule 1, and no celebrant who is a person nominated to solemnize marriages by an approved organisation, is obliged to solemnize a marriage if solemnizing that marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or the religious beliefs or philosophical or humanitarian convictions of the approved organisation.”
I’m not a huge fan of exempting religions from obeying civil laws, but this seems like a somewhat acceptable compromise. I say that, first, because the exemption is broad and does not apply to gay marriage alone. Also, second, it applies only to ministers and celebrants associated with an organisation. As I read it—and I certainly could be wrong—an individual registered as a celebrant can’t use his or her own prejudices to justify refusing to perform marriage ceremonies. All of this, though, is stupid: No same-gender couple would want their special day ruined by “forcing” a homophobic minister or celebrant to perform their marriage ceremony. To suggest otherwise is frankly pathetic.

One recommendation is clearly pandering to the religious extremists: They recommend repealing section 56 which says that it is an offence to impugn or deny the validity of a lawful marriage. Rightwing religious opponents declared that this bill would make it a crime for them to denounce the marriages of same-gender couples from their pulpits, or that they’d somehow be “forced” to acknowledge such marriages in some way they don’t want to. Or something—their logic was always hard to follow.

So, the religious right had their only two semi-rational objections addressed. Naturally, they’re happy, right? Bob “Slippery Slope!” McCoskrie was not, of course, but the headline on his press release was downright bizarre (even for him and his politics of diversion and distraction): “‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’ To Be Removed From Family Laws”. Huh?!

One of Bob’s weirder diversions has been claiming that the marriage equality law would make the words “husband” and “wife” illegal. The reality is that when we have marriage equality, using those words in law would make no sense whatsoever. People can call each other—or other people’s spouses—whatever they want. This is a total non-issue.

But Bob goes on to raise one of his big lies: That the bill is being “rammed through” and that the committee “ignored” submissions, hearing only “1% of submissions”. That is a bald-faced, flat-out lie. The facts are so simple that it’s impossible to believe that Bob really doesn’t understand the numbers.

According to the Bill’s sponsor, Louisa Wall, the Select Committee received 21,533 submissions, however, 18,898 had similar content, what they called “generic submissions” (many of which came from websites from both opponents and supporters). That means only 2635 had unique content. The Committee heard 220 oral submissions. So, they actually heard about 8.34% of the real submissions.

Bob has real trouble understanding numbers, of course. I’ve talked about this here and here and also here. But his real game is, like all rightwing religious political activists, to try and pretend that they’re “victims” and that they’re being ignored. They’re not, of course: They just want mainstream New Zealanders to think they are. The reality is that the entirety of their argument is based on their particular conservative religious beliefs, and the Committee has dealt with their objections.

Enough about the rightwingers. I’ll close with words from some of the good guys in this.

Louisa Wall said, ““Marriage equality is about fairness and choice. This process has showed that that message has really resonated with New Zealanders and has been echoed overseas with the recent passage of similar legislation in the UK.”

Conrad Reyners, spokesperson for the NZ Campaign for Marriage Equality, said, "The report sends a clear message that New Zealand is ready for marriage equality. It is a ringing endorsement of love, fairness, family, and for the equal treatment of all kiwis before the law."

The bill's second reading will be held on March 13. Final passage is expected by mid year.

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