Irony flows thick and fast on 'issue' of gay marriage
Addressing the recent schism in his party's caucus over the issue of gay marriage, Labour leader David Shearer stressed that whatever side of the debate his MPs were on they should not be "assassinated" because "a conscience vote allowed people to vote according to their beliefs or the will of their constituency".
Reading this I wondered what forces usually govern voting preferences in the House. If having a conscience is the exception not the rule it suggests that in the normal course of events parliamentarians vote contrary to personal values and in opposition to the opinion of their electorates. We don't have much of a democracy if this is the case, with our representatives devoid of principle and indifferent to popular opinion.
In contemplating homosexual marriage as an issue - as opposed to a lifestyle choice - I am reminded of an evening's entertainment late last year. John Waters, the infamous American film director, delivered a one-man show in Auckland, a superb monologue the equal of any stand-up comedy I've ever seen. A longtime advocate of gay rights as well as the creator of some of the most iconoclastic independent cinema of all time, Waters was at best indifferent to the concept of same-sex couples trotting down the aisle. He rhetorically questioned why if you were gay you would want get to married. Sure, you can enjoy the right to do so, but why embrace a heterosexual paradigm in which the variety and spice of life becomes narrowed to a singular choice of lover? What could be more boring and conventional than marriage?
I suspect many commitment-prone homosexuals would howl in protest at Waters' line. If marriage is thought of in terms of romance, personal dedication and a lifetime's worth of happiness, there can be no argument for denying it to any on the grounds of sexuality. However, it is also a middle-class institution with historic links to patriarchal property distribution, gender discrimination, legalised rape and systematic abuse. Why would you want in on that nightmare? The looney fundamentalists can keep it.
Funnily enough the looney fundamentalists don't want to share, either. The issue has become a predictable rallying cry for bigotry and small mindedness. In one week nearly 20,000 god-fearing folk signed an online petition set up by lobby group Family First, supporting "the definition of marriage in New Zealand being maintained as one man one woman". I suppose some of this lot might have been focusing more on the monogamy issue, though, especially Mormons are somewhat guilty about their religion's hedonistic past.
There is surely irony involved in a Christian organisation that goes under the name Family First. The Old Testament in particular teaches that God comes before kin, not behind. Why else would Jehovah have tested the strength of Abraham's belief by commanding that he slay his son? To this day too many of the pious persuasion continue to put judgment before forgiveness, betraying the basic tenets of their faith by casting the first stone. How many nominal Christians have disowned offspring on the grounds of sexual orientation or lifestyle choice?
One politician who has sought refuge in the Good Book is heir to the seat of Lange, Mangere MP Su'a William Sio. Doing his Pacific Island people great service by embracing the stereotype of simple folk wanting nothing but old-time religion, Sio has indicated that he will vote against the bill and fears that promoting it will cost Labour the next election. Perhaps with friends like Sio a supposed Left-wing party has no need of enemies. I would have thought that someone in his position would have a responsibility to fight prejudice, not endorse and perpetuate it, especially given evidence that there is greater support for same sex marriage among ethnic minorities than in the Pakeha mainstream.
Easily the most colourful commentary on the whole issue has come via a rainbow. Taking a leaf from Rob Muldoon's book but then inverting it, Dr Stephen Rainbow has argued that if we legalise gay marriage it will in effect improve the sexualities of both New Zealand and Australia. Ex-pat homosexuals and Australian queers alike will come flooding across the Tasman, transforming Auckland and by extension the country into a paradise of tolerance and economic innovation. As fantasies go this is certainly a more credible scenario than having a world of exclusively heterosexual couples, each with 2.5 children, all insanely happy and waiting for Judgement Day.
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