Thursday, October 06, 2011

Courage and convictions

This morning I did my daily news catch-up and spotted something that I think shows how far behind the times New Zealand’s conservative National Party is. It also provides an opportunity to compare and contrast political parties in the four Commonwealth countries I write about the most: The UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

What I read was that the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, was speaking to his Conservative Party’s conference, and said:
"I once stood before a Conservative conference and said it shouldn’t matter whether commitment was between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man. You applauded me for that. Five years on, we’re consulting on legalising gay marriage. And to anyone who has reservations, I say: Yes, it’s about equality, but it’s also about something else: commitment. Conservatives believe in the ties that bind us; that society is stronger when we make vows to each other and support each other. So I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative." [emphasis and italics added]
In stark contrast, the leader of New Zealand’s conservative National Party, Prime Minister John Key, doesn’t support marriage equality. He voted against civil unions, which he explained at the time was because he said he thought it’s what his constituents wanted. He refuses to say whether he’d support civil unions if the vote was now, and he actually told a gay audience that, "I promised not to roll back gay rights and I have kept my promise." He said that as if he thought it was something to boast about!

As superficial as Key is on this issue, it’s probably David Cameron who’s out of step with conservatives in the Commonwealth. Like John Key, the leaders of the Conservative Party in Canada and the rightwing Liberal/National coalition in Australia are hardly pro-gay, after all. And, gay issues aside, all of them have some pretty reprehensible policies. But on this one issue, David Cameron gets what being a conservative is supposed to be about, and he supports marriage equality.

Among labour parties in those four Commonwealth countries, only the UK Labour Party supports full marriage equality (until recently, they opposed it). The New Zealand Labour Party apparently doesn’t yet officially support marriage equality and the Australian Labor Party (ALP) is openly hostile to it (one Aussie Labor politician even said ALP members who support marriage equality should quit the party and join the Greens).

Canada is a completely different situation because it already has marriage equality, but its Liberal Party is, in my opinion, most similar to the ALP. New Zealand’s Labour Party has more in common with Canada’s New Democratic Party, though overall it’s probably most similar to the UK Labour Party under its new leadership. The Greens in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the UK are more progressive than NZ or UK Labour, the ALP or Canada’s Liberals and in all four countries the Greens support marriage equality.

So, while John Key’s political opposition to marriage equality means he’s not unique, it also means he has neither the vision nor the ability to lead New Zealand to a fairer, more just future. If he also has a personal objection to marriage equality, it means he doesn’t really believe all New Zealanders are and ought to be equal. In either case, changing the government will fix the problem, and I’ll have more to say about that in the weeks ahead.

Tip o’ the Hat to Joe.My.God., where I originally saw the Cameron quote.

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