Undermine marriage, weaken society

OPINION: Politicians should be cautious

GRANT MILLER
Last updated 10:14 01/10/2012

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OPINION: Eagle-eyed readers of the Manawatu Standard will know there is a public meeting in Palmerston North this week about ''marriage equality''.

The meeting has been organised by the city's MP, Iain Lees-Galloway, advertised as a forum where local speakers from all sides of the debate will have their say.

I don't accept ''marriage equality'' is a neutral term, but there is otherwise no hint the deck will be stacked in favour of gay marriage, and the MP is to be commended for engaging with the public.

Among the placards on show ahead of the gay marriage debate by MPs in August were two that caught my attention.

A cheerful-looking woman held one, saying: ''Where is my wife?''

The other was held by two people marching in support of gay marriage, saying: ''We're just getting started.''

The first sign brings to mind that politicians are debating whether they should change the meaning of a word - marriage.

The debate is not really about equality - under the law, civil unions are basically equivalent to marriage, allowing same-sex couples to have their commitment to each other recognised by the state. They can't yet call this relationship ''marriage'' because our law says it isn't marriage. According to the courts, marriage is between a man and a woman.

The basis for challenging this definition is that it is a violation of the Human Rights Act to discriminate against people on their sexual orientation, yet the state prevents some people marrying for this reason. This needs to be set right, it is argued.

Interestingly, Louisa Wall's bill to redefine marriage makes no mention of ''husband'' and ''wife''.

''Husband and wife'' highlights the complementary nature of the relationship, so there would need to be redefinition there too, I suppose. Perhaps the politicians will leave that one up to the culture.

The ''we're just getting started'' sign shows activists won't consider the war won when the law changes. The next flashpoint is adoption of children by same-sex couples.

For people opposed to gay marriage, the most dimwitted thing they can do is hurl insults at homosexuals. Nothing helps the reform cause more. It allows supporters of reform to characterise all opponents as homophobic.

Ms Wall's argument in Parliament for ''marriage equality'' was generally well-reasoned. An important point is the bill is about marriage licences given by the state and she argues churches will still be free to choose which couples they marry. The latter claim will be scrutinised by the select committee.

She also made some odd statements. One was this: ''We know why many of the churches do not support this bill. It is fundamentally because their first principle is that homosexuals are sinners, and homosexuality is a sin.''

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This is factually wrong. It is not their first principle; it does not make their top 50. The position of churches is that only one person has ever existed who is not a sinner - everyone else needs a saviour.

So, this argument designed to sideline churches is not legitimate.

The real reason churches do not support Ms Wall's bill is they are worried it could harm marriage - an institution of profound importance to them and fundamental to the welfare of families.

Ms Wall also said: ''I specifically want to acknowledge our Pacific and ethnic communities. I mean no disrespect to you. Your beliefs and values and those of your heritage countries of origin are valid.''

I take her to mean Pacific people have a strong Christian heritage, but Labour would rather not lose their votes.

If their values are valid, her bill is on shaky ground.

A story on the Stuff website also caught my attention. In it, female couple Kyasha Robinson, 20, and Belle Mayston, 21, said civil union ''sounds cold, like a business partnership''. Marriage was more appealing - ''we'd be able to flaunt it''. I agree civil unions don't inspire images of love and romance, but it's interesting they think a marriage certificate would confer legitimacy on their relationship.

If the women don't buy distinctive characteristics of marriage like its complementary nature, what parts of the institution do they want that they can't get already in a civil union?

If politicians are wise, they will be cautious. Undermine marriage and you weaken the family. Weaken the family and you weaken society.

If MPs have the institution's best interests at heart, they will reflect deeply on its value.

- Manawatu Standard

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