Committee 'menacing' to anti-gay-marriage teenager

A teenager opposed to gay marriage has accused select committee members of behaving in a hostile and "menacing" way to submitters who are against a proposed law change for same-sex couples.

Leader of conservative lobby group Family First Bob McCoskrie says the girl was treated apallingly by MPs when she told them during her oral submission that to allow homosexuals to marry would undermine the sanctity of marriage, with one calling her "homophobic" and another getting up for refreshments in the middle of her speech.

In a press release sent to the Sunday Star-Times, McCoskrie said 18-year-old Grace Carroll was left humiliated, disappointed and frustrated by the experience - and she's not the only person to have complained.

However, the committee members say all submitters were treated with respect - even if they did roll their eyes at the girl when she began to quote civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr - and that McCoskrie was simply agitating because public support has swung away from him.

"I think McCroskrie is mischief-making," said Green MP Kevin Hague. "His motivation is to do whatever he can to try and stop the bill. So I don't think anyone will be surprised that he is now attempting to undermine [the] select committee process."

Labour MP Louisa Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill is before the select committee, which will report to Parliament on February 28. If passed, it could see gay marriage legal by May next year.

The committee has received more than 20,000 submissions on the bill and has held numerous hearings since December.

Carroll, a Catholic design student from Wellington, appeared in front of the committee on December 10. She says those to appear before her were all in support of the bill, and were treated well, but when her name was called the mood changed.

"The heavy air was charged with emotion and I am still astounded that I managed to walk towards that table and chair despite apprehension and feeling sick at heart at my different treatment and the apparent hostility," she said.

She said in the middle of her speech, acting chair Chris Auchinvole got up to get a drink, and when she finished her speech with the words of Martin Luther King Jr, Hague was "unsavoury and menacing" to her, calling her homophobic.

"The whole experience was very strange. There was a lack of common courtesy and respect," she said.

Auchinvole said it was common for committee members to get drinks and go to the toilet during submissions as long as a quorum was maintained and that Carroll had already made a written submission to which she was speaking.

Auchinvole said appearing before a select committee "can be an intimidating experience if you were too sensitive" but members went to great lengths to make people feel relaxed.

He said Carroll was "very direct" and "passionate" in delivering her submission.

"Lots of people were emotional but it's an emotional topic," he said.

Hague, who is gay, said he felt all submitters - especially individuals - had been treated with respect. He said he would be concerned if an 18-year-old felt bullied, but he didn't think that was the case. However, he admitted he did express exasperation when she began talking about "virtue".

"That makes my hackles rise . . . I find it offensive," he said.

"Even more outrageous is her quoting Martin Luther King at the end. I am certain that my feelings would have been obvious at the time: co-opting words from the leader of the American civil rights movement, whose widow has been a vocal advocate of marriage equality, to deny civil rights to others is going to stir strong reactions."

He said he never used the word homophobic.

Committee head Ruth Dyson said she was surprised to hear of the allegations.

"I'm disappointed [Carroll] has gone to someone like Family First which is not related to the submission process, instead of coming to us," she said.

Dyson said if people were provocative, they did get more questions from the committee, but it was not targeted in any way.

She said if anyone was hostile, it was McCoskrie at the committee hearing last week, when he told the MPs that if homosexuals could marry it opened the door for family members being able to marry too - effectively linking incest with gays.

"Bob was very grumpy on Monday," Dyson said. "In the end he can see the groundswell of opinion is against him."

McCoskrie said he had never had a committee that was so hostile.

"When the ‘for' groups were submitting, they were asked good questions, they were asked to explain and were complimented on their research," he said. "When we opposed, the question line was very strong and targeted. It's not a level playing field."

Sunday Star Times