Thursday, June 23, 2011

Slow walk to equality

One of the issues I’m most passionate about is marriage equality, an issue that’s had its share of both advances and set-backs in recent years. In New Zealand, progress seems to have stalled.

As part of a New Zealand Herald series called “Broadsides,” the paper asked Labour’s Jacinda Ardern and National’s Nikki Kaye, “Do you support same-sex marriage?” Kaye is currently the MP for Auckland Central, normally a Labour stronghold, with some of the most progressive voters in New Zealand. Ardern, a rising star in the Labour Party, will contest the election for the party.

Not surprisingly for candidates representing a progressive electorate, they both support marriage equality. Ardern demonstrated in support of the Civil Union Act, and says she’d vote for marriage equality because:
“I don't believe it's for me, the state, or anyone else to determine how a couple wants their relationship recognised; that is for them to decide. But it is absolutely our job to remove the barriers that stop people from having the same choices as everyone else and to ensure we are all treated equally and fairly by the law.”
Kaye says “While I accept and recognise Labour's contribution in progressing gay and lesbian rights, one of the reasons why I support National is that a core principle of the party is personal freedom.” She might want to remind her fellow National Party caucus members of that “core principle”, because Prime Minister John Key, Deputy Prime Minister Bill English and all other long-term National MPs all voted against the Civil Unions Act: The three members of the National Party caucus to vote for the law—Clem Simich, Katherine Rich and Pansy Wong—are all gone from Parliament. So, I have a tough time believing that National has a “core principle” of personal freedom or, if it does, that there’s an asterisk explaining that the “core principle” doesn’t include GLBT people.

Having said that, she does note another issue:
“The bigger issue for me is the inability of same-sex couples to adopt. The adoption law is outdated, archaic, and there are many anomalies. For instance non-married couples aren't currently permitted to adopt children, although people in non-marital relationships can adopt as individuals. I feel very sad that many New Zealanders who would make great parents are denied the opportunity to adopt. Everybody loses, including some of our most disadvantaged children.”
That has nothing to do with marriage equality itself, but she’s absolutely right about that and about how enacting marriage equality will be largely symbolic. But symbolism matters, especially when it’s your government telling you that you’re equal to all other citizens.

The National Party will not be promoting marriage equality. Neither will the Labour Party. Opposition Leader Phil Goff took part in a “live chat” on Twitter this time last month, and he was asked about marriage equality. He answered, “Labour supported civil unions, when National opposed them. Not intending to make further changes.”

When I’ve brought up the subject of marriage equality with Labour MPs, I’ve mostly been ignored. Some have tried diversion by pointing out that some Labour MPs want to see adoption reform. I’ve also been dismissed, one time with the insinuation that mainstream New Zealand would get the vapours if Labour tried to enact marriage equality (the MPs who said all this are not the point, which is why I’m not naming them or quoting them directly).

I think Labour’s problem is a simple lack of courage combined with being sort of punch-drunk. In the past two elections, National hammered Labour for running a “nanny state” government, and engaging in “social engineering”. Ardern seemed to acknowledge as much when she said, “It still surprises me when I hear people categorise civil unions as a nanny state change made by Labour. I don't think that could be further from the truth.” So I think Labour is remaining deliberately silent on the issue out of fear of appearing too progressive, too friendly to GLBT New Zealanders.

None of which is to diminish the real progress that happened under Labour. It’s all important and real—and in the past. It’s never okay to rest on one’s laurels, or to expect eternal gratitude for past good works.

The only New Zealand political party committed to full legal equality for GLBT New Zealanders is the Green Party. All Green MPs have always voted for GLBT rights and equality, and neither Labour nor National can make that claim—especially not National.

So, while Jacinda Ardern and Nikki Kaye may support marriage equality, their parties definitely don’t. Labour expects GLBT voters to be grateful for non-marriage civil unions, and to be afraid of what National might do in a second term. That fear could be justified, because John Key’s enticement to GLBT voters is, “hey, we didn’t take away any of your rights in this term…” Only the Greens have been consistently in support of full equality for GLBT New Zealanders.

Passionate as I am about this issue, I don’t think that voting based on that will make any difference because marriage equality will not advance, regardless of whether it’s National or Labour that leads the next government. However, a Labour-led government with a strengthened Greens caucus could have at least the potential for un-stalling the issue. That doesn’t make it likely to happen, however.

And this issue gives a hint as to why, five months out from the election, I’m struggling to decide how I’ll vote. It’s not easy this year, that’s for sure.


sJames6621 said...

its so nice that NZ voted 77 to 44 to allow gays to marry in 2013 As usual the catholic church of the endless hidden molestation of children, thanks to their not normal & dumb celibacy policy, was opposed as it continues to live in the dark ages


Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

A comment posted to this (very old) post included a link to a site that often trades in smears, innuendos and possible defamation. Because I cannot independently verify the accusations in that link, and because I have a policy of never linking to rightwing sites, that comment has been deleted.