Monday, February 14, 2011

A bit rich, John

Yesterday, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key again attended the “Big Gay Out,” Auckland’s largest GLBT event, which each year attracts some 10,000 people.

In his speech to the crowd, Key said: "I promised not to roll back gay rights and I have kept my promise." He claimed that under his leadership, the National Party had “a strong record of standing up for gay rights,” as the NZPA story put it.

To claim a “strong record” means his party should have done something positive, not just avoided doing bad things. Simply not doing evil isn’t the same thing as being virtuous, after all, especially if one—or one’s party—is inclined to do bad things, as their recent history suggests:

  • In December, 2004, Parliament passed the Civil Unions Act, but 24 of 27 National MPs voted against it, including Key. 14 of the MPs who voted “no” are in Key’s Cabinet. All three of the National MPs who voted for the bill are now gone from Parliament.
  • The following March, Parliament considered the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill to put legal force to the Civil Union Act by ensuring that relationships would be treated equally in law in most instances. During debate, then-Act Party MP Stephen Franks offered (on supposed Libertarian grounds) a two-part amendment. The first part would have removed sexual orientation, marital status and family status from the Human Rights Act, thus removing legal protections. The second part would’ve specifically allowed anyone except the government to discriminate because of specific conduct: “extra-marital sex, extra-marital child bearing, the breach of promises exchanged in marriage, desertion, same sex relationships in the nature of marriage, and homosexual sex”.
    Reprehensible and disgusting as Franks’ effort was, three current National Party cabinet ministers—Judith Collins, John Carter and Nick Smith—voted in favour of specifically re-legalising discrimination. The amendment ultimately failed, of course.
  • In December of that year, 2005, Parliament took up then-MP Gordon Copeland’s anti-gay Marriage (Gender Clarification) Amendment Bill, which would’ve defined marriage as only between one man and one woman (even though that fact had already been established by the courts). 36 National MPs vote for it, and of them, 15 are now in Cabinet.

So, a good chunk of John Key’s cabinet has an anti-gay voting record, sometimes virulently so. Pardon me for not being thrilled with Key that he’s kept them from repealing what Labour enacted when it was in government.

The evidence is clearly that National under Key does not have “a strong record of standing up for gay rights.” Maybe he meant to say his National caucus has a strong record of sitting down for gay rights—not attacking, in other words. That’s simply not good enough.

Labour isn’t above criticism, either: While they passed the Civil Unions Act and related legislation, the party has done—and said—little since. Some current Labour MPs have spoken in favour of fixing the anomaly in adoption law that prevents same-sex couples from adopting, although a single gay person can. That’s great. But I’m not aware of a single Labour MP who has expressed any support for full marriage equality—and that includes their gay MPs.

In the last election, the right hammered Labour for its “social engineering,” a patently absurd charge, but one that resonated with the right. I suspect that the Labour leadership has made a calculated political decision to stay as far away from social issues as possible, to the extent of remaining totally silent on equality issues.

Still, Labour can be rightly proud of what it did do. But it’s a bit rich for John Key to claim his party has “a strong record of standing up for gay rights” when the record suggests the opposite.

1 comment:

liminalD said...

I posted this as a link on Facebook because it's succinct and well-written, and I think all Kiwi LGBT people need to remember this come election day.

Well said :)