OPINION: The Marriage Amendment Bill aims to amend marriage legislation to ensure gay couples are not treated in "a discriminatory manner". Today, freelance writer Lee Suckling discusses the arguments that have arisen throughout recent months' discussion.
Opinion and debate are essential to a country's progress. It makes a society stronger, as we're forced to understand and defend our beliefs.
I first penned my case for marriage equality in March this year, before Barack Obama and John Key pledged support, before nationwide campaigns arose, and before the Amendment Bill was drafted. My views remain the same, but my defence of marriage equality has strengthened.
Throughout the past months, expressions both for and against marriage equality have made headlines. Many arguments have been posited, however they've been somewhat unbalanced. While researched and intelligent considerations have been voiced in support of marriage equality, few rational and educated concerns against it have been put forth for the public to consider.
The recurring defect in any case against marriage equality is the present need to bring the morality of homosexuality into play.
If I place New Zealand's political history on a timeline correctly, such a judgment call isn't relevant anymore. Equal marriage rights for any two consenting adults is what is on the table here, not whether a relationship between two men or two women is morally acceptable. The latter is a conversation we were having 26 years ago during the Homosexual Law Reform. Therefore, if anyone wants to pose such an argument, frankly, he or she is in the wrong decade. In fact, they're in the wrong century.
When I wrote my original story, it received more comments from Stuff.co.nz readers than any other item that day. Several key themes were presented in such comments, each with accompanying rebuttals.
"Marriage is a Christian institution"
Unfortunately for those who lay claim to this argument, it simply isn't historically accurate. One reader aptly said, "Cultures pre-dating Christianity by thousands of years have practiced, and continue to practice, marriage ceremonies outside of the Western Judeo-Christian framework. It is a human societal institution, and every human being deserves to right to have their love celebrated and recognised, regardless of sexuality."
"The primary function for marriage is procreation"
As many readers explained, if this was so, marriages between heterosexual couples that cannot conceive, chose not to, or adopt, should be considered invalid. However, under no circumstance would infertility, adoption, or the personal choice not to procreate nullify a marriage.
"The Government should stay out of the bedrooms of the country"
The Government is recognising that it has no role in enforcing moral views that are detrimental any individual's human rights. Moreover, there is no question as to whether two people of the same sex should be able to sleep in the same bed. Marriage isn't required for that.
"Gay marriage poses risk to straight couples' marriages"
If our Prime Minister can't see how a marriage between a same sex couple would undermine the marriage to his wife, neither should any other heterosexual couple. If any straight married person perceives such a threat, "their relationship is weak", noted one reader. In itself, such a marriage weakens the concept of matrimony in its entirety.
"It threatens the family construct"
As the British Prime Minister David Cameron has explained, when any two people of legally consenting age vow to love and support one another, to create a family together, or, conversely, make the conscious choice not to bring children into the world because of circumstances, this strengthens society as a whole; inclusive of the institution of family.
"You ARE afforded the same rights as any other citizen. You, like us, have the right to be married to a person of the opposite sex. Anything else is special rights"
This was true before the Civil Unions Act 2004, but that Act philosophically challenges the definition of the rights afforded. Prior to the Act, all New Zealand citizens and residents were allowed to be legally joined only to someone of the opposite sex. Now, however, heterosexual citizens have the right to choose how to be legally recognised as a couple (via marriage or civil union), while homosexuals are denied that same choice. In a subtle yet clear way, this undermines gay relationships - it states that they are not considered equal.
"I want to marry my horse. I don't see why we can't be joined matrimonially in this new world of equality. My friend wants to marry his 12-year-old cousin and he feels just as strongly."
"Neither a horse nor a 12 year old child can give consent," argued one reader. "If you and your friend can't tell the difference between a relationship with a consenting adult and that with an animal or child, I strongly recommend you both seek serious help," said another. Relationships between humans and animals are not legal, nor recognised, by the New Zealand Government. Neither are relationships between a man and his relative, or anyone under the consenting adult age. Homosexual relationships are legal and recognised in this country. Marriage equality serves to offer full civil rights to those legally recognised relationships.
"I get really annoyed with gay people demanding special rights all the time"
"They are not special rights if they are the rights already afforded to a majority" has been a prolific response worldwide to this statement. One either believes in human rights, or one doesn't. If you don't believe the same rights apply to all humans, you believe some humans are more deserving than others.
"Civil unions are pretty much the same as marriages. You have enough"
When a woman was not able to vote, but she could influence her husband who was permitted, did she have 'enough'? When a black man was authorised to ride in a bus, unless a white person wanted his seat, did he have 'enough'? When a child's bullies stop beating him, but merely spit on him instead, does he have 'enough'?
'Enough' isn't enough. 'Enough' is still discrimination. When the homosexual community of New Zealand are granted full and complete civil rights, akin to the rights of every other New Zealander, only then will it be enough.
We are yet to be challenged with an argument against marriage equality that can't be forced into contradiction, or, failing that, simply becomes hate speech. Diverse opinions, disagreements and devil's advocate disputes are welcomed, but let's ensure we're disagreeing based on correct facts and with thoughtful contributions.