Local MPs go against the grain with marriage bill

22:16, Sep 02 2012

Television is awful, and of all the terrible things on telly, the absolute worst has to be Question Time on Parliament TV. It's where our elected representatives are at their worst.

It's best avoided, unless you're seeking to remind yourself just how incredibly human our government really is.

So it was nice, last Thursday night, to catch our MPs conducting themselves with dignity during the pre-vote debate on Louise Wall's Definition of Marriage Amendment Bill.

I had some people round for non-Parliament-TV-watching-reasons, but applause still broke out when Lockwood Smith, with his omnipresent knowing smile, announced that the ayes had it. Watching a Parliamentary broadcast isn't something that the people I know would normally do, but gay marriage is an important issue for my generation.

Which is why it was so crushingly disappointing to see Hamilton's duly elected representatives, David Bennett and Tim Macindoe, vote against the bill.

In many of the speeches for or against the bill, MPs talked about how they had consulted their constituents to find out how their electorates felt about the bill.


This is obviously an important part of the process, but I'm starting to wonder who Macindoe and Bennett spoke to.

I wonder, because more people in Hamilton support gay marriage than anywhere else in New Zealand.

Macindoe, in his speech to Parliament, indicated that he would be voting against the bill based on his Christian beliefs. That's fair enough, but it's important to note that as an electorate MP, Macindoe doesn't represent Christians. He represents Hamilton, and Hamilton takes all kinds.

His argument was that equality could be satisfied by conferring to civil unions the benefits currently enshrined in marriage. I find this argument weak.

Suggesting that full rights be carried to civil unions smacks of Jim Crow "separate but equal" rhetoric. It is not equality in practice, because it is unequal by design.

Doing this would result in a situation where both heterosexual couples and homosexual couples would be able to enter into a civil union, but only heterosexuals would be able to get married. The idea that this situation represents equality is absurd.

Imagine, for a second, that interracial couples could get civil unions, but only couples of the same colour could get married.

When framed in these terms, the discriminatory nature of this provision quickly becomes obvious.

Worse, it also carries the implicit suggestion that marriage is something that only religious persons should enjoy.

If marriage is a holy institution, then why should anyone outside of religion be allowed to engage in it?

Fortunately for everyone, this point is moot.

Marriage licences are not issued by churches but by the state, and this is a matter of secular law. Religion, in the garb of tradition, doesn't have a prayer here.

No one is forcing churches to perform homosexual marriages, but by the same token churches may not force the state otherwise.

If the state bowed always to religion and tradition, women would never have got the vote, and marriage would not have undergone one of its many redefinitions in 1933 when the age of marriage consent was set at 16 and women were first allowed to be celebrants - changes that now seem to us as necessary as breathing.

Science shows us sexual orientation isn't a choice and that homosexuality is quite natural. There is no evidence gay parents are any worse than heterosexual ones.

The state should take its cue from these verifiable facts.

David Bennett, on the other hand, has been particularly quiet on the issue. I haven't yet seen his reasoning for why he voted against the bill, but it had better be good.

I'm unimpressed with his lack of any kind of stance on the issue to date, at the time of writing. I disagree with Tim Macindoe's stance, but I respect the fact he actually has one, which he can articulate when called upon. Bennett might be a backbencher in a fairly quiet, reasonably safe-seeming seat, but on this matter, voters are watching and will remember, voters who, in his electorate, are 73 percent in favour of the bill he just voted against.

It's time he publicly declared just why he did so.

Equality of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, is nothing less than a fundamental human right.

The fact the electorate supports it wholeheartedly makes voting for it even more of a no-brainer. When the bill comes around for its second reading, I sincerely hope both of Hamilton's electorate MPs vote not only on what the majority of their electorate wants, but what is right and just.

Joshua Drummond is a Hamilton freelance writer who will probably start avoiding Parliament TV again.

Waikato Times