Births, deaths and marriages up for debate

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 05:00 29/04/2013

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Gay adoption and euthanasia are among the final social frontiers for our parliament to cross. They're both on the political agenda and politicians are ready and bracing for the onslaught.

Now that same-sex marriage is out of the way - as far as Parliament is concerned - those from both sides of that debate are keen to take a well-deserved rest but with bills on gay adoption and euthanasia waiting to be drawn from the member's ballot it could be a short-lived break from heated debate.

Conservative lobbyists and church groups, so vocal in opposition to same-sex marriage, say they're ready to take up the placards again, but they are miffed that it's all been left to them.

Baptist national leader Craig Vernall said middle New Zealand had been "gutless" in its approach to the Marriage Act.

"We're left to represent the majority views in many respects because people are intimidated . . . people just hide, they go underground, they don't want to be labelled homophobic. It seems if you're opposed to gay marriage you're just branded and labelled homophobic, should be shot, that's the view the media paints."

The men honoured on Anzac Day would be deeply disappointed they had laid down their lives for democracy and the result was decriminalisation of prostitution, legalised gambling, lowering of the drinking age and gay marriage, he says.

Catholic Archbishop John Dew says his church is no stranger to the parliamentary process and was aware of the bills waiting to be drawn.

"Catholic social teaching and values founded on promotion of the common good, the dignity of persons, concern for the vulnerable and the family unit are what motivates us to participate in these discussions.

"We also take seriously our role in society, alongside other faith groups, in proposing support for, or challenging regulation or legislation on, a wide range of issues."

Family First director Bob McCroskie was more staunch.

He says the legalisation of gay marriage confirmed National had swung to the left and was no longer a conservative party. Labour was voted out in 2008 for social engineering policies, including legalised prostitution, civil unions, and anti-smacking, but politicians still believed they could introduce such legislation. Family First's membership quadrupled from 8000 to 32,000 as a result of the marriage debate and they were ready to mobilise their supporters against gay adoption and euthanasia.

"People don't understand the process and don't think it's worth getting involved and we see our role is to get rid of that misconception."

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McCroskie has websites against both issues ready to go live if the bills are drawn.

Gay adoption is the next logical step after same-sex marriage. Before the marriage equality bill passed, single gay people were eligible to adopt but gay couples were not.

That's because our adoption law is so out-of-date it defined spouses as being married and, until this month, homosexuals could not marry. That hurdle has been overcome but the rights of other same-sex partners remain unclear.

Debate about what defines a child's parents - mum and dad, mum and mum, or dad and dad - is likely to explode.

Vernall is upfront on the matter: "The traditional view of mum and dad has been the ideal, the challenge for the Government on this one will be to put into law something that denies a child that opportunity."

Don't tell Green MP Kevin Hague his member's bill is about gay adoption. He's adamant it is a comprehensive overhaul of the adoption law, under which he wants to implement all recommendations from a 2001 Law Commission report. Another bill, from Labour's Jacinda Ardern, asks the commission to draft its own bill to enact those recommendations.

Hague was hopeful his bill would get cross-party support now the sting had been taken out of the issue with gay marriage allowed.

L ABOUR MP Maryan Street, however, has got a fight on her hands with attempts to legalise euthanasia. It's a touchy subject and one that hasn't made much ground internationally with just a handful of countries legalising it.

Victoria University philosophy academic Nicholas Agar says euthanasia is a completely different issue to gay rights, and much more vexed.

"I fail to see the strength of arguments against gay marriage and gay adoption, I think that's just a matter of eventually people will have to get used to it and, like Maurice Williamson said, they'll see the world won't end.

"Euthanasia is much more a real issue. I see it as real arguments on both sides," Agar says.

Street is prepared for the debate, although she acknowledges it won't be an easy ride.

"This is not a cut-and-dried issue and there will be people who feel sympathetically towards this but are worried about a slippery slope or some insufficient safeguards being in place to make sure the legislation is not abused or that people aren't coerced into ending their lives prematurely."

Street believes she simply needs to convince people that every possible safeguard has been included, and that there is nothing compassionate or dignified about the way some now spend their final moments.

Agar thinks it might be a bit more complicated than that. Time, he says, can be a great help in adjusting expectations.

"Look at the decriminalisation of prostitution . . . here I am looking out at Kelburn Parade [in Wellington] and it's not saturated with prostitutes, many of the lewd predictions just didn't come true.

"There were lots of reservations about women making that professional choice but still . . . the world didn't end."

Euthanasia, gay adoption, abortion, drugs - politicians can be guaranteed to find someone with an opposing view.

"It's not as if we're like America and we've got to ban machine guns; we're on the right side of lots of those pressing issues internationally," Agar says.

Whether the next divisive law changes are passed depends on how much negative sentiment adversaries manage to drum up and how many people believe, no matter what we decide, the sun will still rise in the morning.

- Sunday Star Times

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