November 30, 2004

The End is Nigh

David W Young writes earnestly once again:

Finally the civil union debate minces into its final days. Once the Civil Union Bill is passed, getting the Relationships Bill through should (one would imagine) be a formality, even if it is going to come embarrassingly late.

As our MPs prepare to vote, doesn’t it feel more like a referendum on shirt-lifting, vegemite-drilling banditry than anything else? Any pretence that this is anything other than almost-but-not-quite-gay-marriage seems to have been dropped by both sides.

Both the supporters and the opponents of the Civil Union Bill seem quite burdened by their self-righteousness. Their hearts are in the right places. The opponents believe they are helping New Zealand avoid slipping into a moral morass. The supporters are just as pious: they see themselves unshackling a minority from inequality.

Of course, neither group will actually achieve their goals. Neither sin nor (state-sanctioned) discrimination will disappear.

The two sides have a lot in common. Both vastly overestimate The Other. For social liberals, the Religious Right is a massive and terrifying Bogeyman. For social conservatives, the Gay Lobby fulfils the same role. Overseas the Religious Right and the Gay Lobby might be large and well-organised. But I’ve seen both sides up close in New Zealand, and I don't think either is particularly strong. To my eye, they appear fairly well-matched.

Believing in evil Bogeymen means a lot of energy is wasted on fear and paranoia.

In this fight, it has meant masses of political and social capital have been used up in extremely divisive and non-constructive activities. Campaigning that included print media advertisements and the lobbying of MPs (incidentally, did both sides remember to get Kenneth Wang?) went overboard on rhetoric, while under-delivering on evidence. Advertisements that list a whole load of names? Bible quotations? Gee, thanks for taking the people of New Zealand seriously.

This battle bubbled away under the surface for months, giving shape to the Destiny march and leading to (some accurate) accusations of bigotry from both sides.

Yet I believe this was the wrong battle. I support full gay marriage. No argument exists for a civil union that is not also an argument for full marriage. I do not believe, as Russell Brown’s straw man does, that “the defeat of the CUB would somehow open the way for same-sex marriage”. I do believe that the passing of the CUB will make it harder for full marriage to ever be allowed. I don’t think this battle should ever have been chosen – and certainly not before first trying for full marriage.

Brown has been one of the few protagonists in the CUB debate who has actually argued his case rationally. So I'm sorry for giggling when he mentions he is "standing behind" his gay friends in this debate. I just get an unfortunate mental image. Anyway, It's interesting that his friends and my own have such different viewpoints. I suspect it is a generational thing. I'm 24 and came out quite young. His friends are in their 40s and seem to have belatedly identified as gay.

The civil union bill will be passed. The Relationships Bill should get through too - without it, the CUB has no bite. Once both pieces of legislation are passed, some people will be rather happy and others will be rather angry. I think both sides will be over-reacting.

Like most New Zealanders, for me personally, it won't have much significance. And not just because of my opposition to civil unions. I don't let politics drive my life to that extent. Nope, it won't have much impact because my partner and I are already engaged to wed next year. In our own way. After that, in the medium-term, we will sort out how to have kids. But in the meantime, our ceremony will be just right for us. It will be a demonstration of our love for each other. And that's really what matters.

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