I haven’t blogged this year yet on the Marriage Equality Bill, but it has in fact been a major focus for me.
I know some opponents of the Bill are trying to kick up a fuss about lots of submitters who wanted to make an oral submission not getting the opportunity, but having read literally thousands of submissions personally and heard hundreds, I can say with confidence and my hand on my heart that those we heard provided a very clear reflection of the submissions received.
The submissions were roughly evenly split, with a small majority in favour of the Bill. However, there was a striking difference – those against were largely presenting a perspective based on religious belief, while those in favour presented a much wider range of arguments and reflected a broader cross-section of society; churches, health organisations, youth groups, unions, law or human rights groups and so on.
Of those opposed, I am pleased to say that relatively few were of the hateful nature I have seen on previous bills, or promised me that I would burn for eternity in a lake of fire, but those people are still out there. Much more commonly, submitters would say that they had nothing against gay people, or had gay friends.
It’s always a good idea, however, to disregard everything before the “but” and they often went on to express views that their gay friends might find surprising.
Most of the submissions opposed to the Bill used, paraphrased or even quoted verbatim the Family First submission guide. Unfortunately this meant many repeated errors of fact or argument that Family First had made. The most common arguments that appeared in opposing submissions were:
- Tradition – marriage as always been between a man and a woman, and we have an obligation to maintain this tradition, either as a duty to our predecessors and descendants, or because of (typically undefined) bad consequences if tradition is betrayed.
- Natural/divine – actually two separate ideas but usually expressed linked. Heterosexual marriage arises from the natural order of things in which both a man and a woman are necessary to reproduce, which is the point of marriage. Usually expressed with the extra criterion that God intended/designed that it be so.
- Exclusivity – the special status of heterosexual marriage is worth protecting, and it would be undermined and devalued if others were allowed into the club. Usually expressed with the companion idea that same sex couples should be entitled to the same legal rights (separate but equal), but civil unions are the right vehicle for this.
- Dictionary – marriage is inherently between one man and one woman (the dictionary says so). Parliament cannot change the meaning of a word, any more than it could make the word “red” now mean green.
- Human rights – there is not a human right to marry, and if there is, then the right is satisfied because LGBT can marry a person of the opposite sex. The argument usually uses all of the categories of marriages that are not permitted (children etc) to demonstrate the point.
- Religious freedom – a very large number of submitters say the Bill infringes their religious freedom, both by legalising same-sex marriages against their beliefs but more particularly by opening the door for their churches/ministers to be legally challenged if they refuse to solemnise same-sex marriages. Some also suggested that essentially commercial transactions like hiring a hall were also problematic, and a very small number expressed concern that they would no longer be permitted to express their religious beliefs about marriage.
- Children – if the Bill is passed same-sex couples will be considered spouses for the purposes of the Adoption Act and will become eligible to adopt children. This is undesirable because children need both their biological mum and dad or, failing that, at least adult male and female role models. Submitters typically used a “research has shown” type of statement and often cited a number of references which they believed or had been told demonstrated their point. Interestingly a smaller but still significant number of those opposed to the Bill made the explicit point that they had no problem with same sex couples being considered for adoptive parents.
- Slippery slope – if the Bill is passed it will open the door to parallel arguments for marriage rights to be extended to polyamorous, incestuous and bestial marriages, which Parliament will be forced to accept.
- Downfall – related to the tradition theme. Marriage is the “fundamental building block” of society. If it is varied the structure will become inherently weaker and it will collapse, as Rome did. There are several variants, including one where allowing same-sex marriage results in fewer children being born, leading to population decline.
- Perversion/sin – didn’t appear explicitly in most submissions against but was often implicit. Essentially these are people who see homosexuality as a sinful or unnatural behaviour that people can choose. Any law change that facilitates or validates that choice is seen as hastening moral crisis in our society with dire results. Often accompanied with allusions to ancient Greece and Rome. An explicit version :”if this Bill becomes law we will become overwhelmed by a tide of perversion and depravity that will make our country not fit to live in.”
- Minority – LGBT New Zealanders make up a tiny minority, and we shouldn’t change the law for such a small number, especially when it will offend the beliefs of many.
By now I expect readers will be very familiar with the rebuttals to these arguments, so I will spare you another run through. Some of them are ridiculous of course and some require a little more thought, but they were sincerely held by the submitters to the Bill, and the Committee did its best to be respectful of all who submitted.