Editorial: True-blue support for gay marriage

16:00, Feb 08 2013

Britain has said yes to gay marriage, and that should encourage New Zealand to do the same. David Cameron says he supports gay marriage, not ''despite the fact that I'm a Conservative. I support it because I'm a Conservative.'' So perhaps Mr Key can now follow his friend and fellow Tory and lead the charge for reform.

The British PM's argument is both eloquent and Right-wing. The marriage pledge, he told a Tory Party conference in 2006, ''means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it's not just about ''me, me, me'' anymore. It is about we: together, the two of us, through thick and thin.''

Marriage is not just about taking responsibility and rejecting selfishness, according to Mr Cameron's argument, it is about strengthening the ties that bind a society together. It is a family-values kind of argument, but updated to recognise that families come in all shapes and kinds, gay as well as straight.

In a sense, it is an appeal for a return to the past, when marriage was both respectable and the thing to do. As Mike Moore once joked, the only people who want to marry nowadays are gay. Straight people are less and less committed to the idea. Strengthen the family, then, and vote for gay marriage.

Sir Roger Gale, a fellow Tory, told the House of Commons this week that marriage had always meant a union between a man and a woman. ''It is Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian almost, for any government of any political persuasion to seek to come along and try to re-write the lexicon. It will not do.''

This is an exciting argument - it suggests marriage equality is totalitarian and a sort of contradiction in terms - but it's daft. The meaning of words is forever changing, no matter how much conservatives dislike the fact. The social institution referred to by the word has constantly changed, and thank goodness for that. Once it signified a male's property right in a woman. Once it meant an alliance between patriarchal families. Not any more. So why can't the word change again, to include a union of two men or two women?

The British Parliament heard a lot of religious arguments against the change, but these don't wash either. Contrary to what some claimed, a change in the law will not force a priest or a pastor to defy his or her conscience and marry a gay couple in church. This is a law change about granting rights and freedoms to a minority that has always been denied them. It is not about forcing anybody to do anything they don't want to do.  

Besides, Conservatives who invoke their Christian principles against the bill face two serious problems. There is no such thing as a ''Christian'' view of gay marriage. 

''Christians'' include Left-wing militants and hoary reactionaries. Nor is there a ''Bible'' view of the matter. St Paul didn't like gays. He had very staid views about the place of women in the family, too. But liberal Christians say Christ's message of love trumps his follower's frequent lapses into intolerance. Appeals to God - an authority many don't recognise - don't work in a secular democracy.

So relax, Kiwi conservatives. David Cameron has shown that you can vote for gay marriage and still be true-blue.


The Dominion Post