Marriage equality – the submissions against

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:


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.”
  11. 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.


About Kevin Hague 163 Articles

Green Party Member of Parliament

8 Comments Posted

  1. Either way, my point (irony clearly lost in translation) was that words change meaning regularly. Look at the word “nice”. It used to mean finicky or pedantic and is now miles from that. “Awful” used to mean “inspiring awe”. “Guy” used to refer to a grotesque man (cf Guy Fawkes) but now just means “fellow”.

    People who object to the word “marriage” because of its definition are also overlooking that it used to be a very different institution, in terms of power, property rights, human rights etc. A bit of education can be helpful before making definitive pronouncements (such as that the dictionary defines the meaning of a word).

    (They also overlook that words can be deliberately socially constructed into a new meaning, e.g. “queer”, if people want to do so. Presumably those objecting on the dictionary grounds do not wish to do so.)

  2. Peter Martin, no not really – the link sort of confirms my point of how a singular meaning expands to a wider meaning.

    Being full of joy, merry, lighthearted is the general meaning – but it can of course describe those of high spirits (drinking and social inter-action). The latter side of the meaning leads to association with sexual activity – to promiscuity. Because of the latter connotation there it became associated with those associated with (extra marital liason) promiscuity.

    So as the link said when noting a 19thC male homosexual prostitute used the term gay for homosexual men or female prostitutes. The wider term “gay cat” for a casual labourer or young hobo (who has no fixed employment or abode thus somewhat “promicuous” about this) was not necesarily related to homosexual activity but indicates a vulnerability to changing circumstance including sexual exploitation by older men. Thus its use in prison slang. But it does not indicate that the youth is a homosexual.

    It was not an exclusively homosexual connotation in the 19thC – it was a slang term used only in sub-cultures of society. It was used as an adjective in 1940’s psychological writing – entered common public usage in the 50’s but was not a noun for a homosexual (usually male) until 1971.

    My point is around this stage of the use of the word when it became a noun, rather than an adjective as it had been until more recent times.

  3. SPC…I’m not quite sure that ‘Once upon a time the meaning of words was quite singular’.
    In this particular instance perhaps I could suggest you have a look at this link:
    Gay began with ‘late 14c., “full of joy, merry; light-hearted, carefree;” also “wanton, lewd, lascivious” (late 12c. as a surname, Philippus de Gay), from Old French gai “joyful, happy; pleasant, agreeably charming; forward, pert”.
    The homosexual connotation is in evidence for over a century and appears to have nothing to do with ‘ Good as You being G.A.Y.’

  4. Once upon a time the meaning of words was quite singular but as the word was used more and more its range of meaning grew and now there are different ways to describe the meaning of one word in a dictionary.

    Gay still means what it used to and it now adds on a new meaning – where gay is derived from good as you – Good as You being G.A.Y.

    Those claiming to be good as you – despite not being like the majority who are heterosexual, being gay.

    A dictionary should explain that there are two different origins to the word gay now in use. Thus a gay might not be gay, and one does not need to be gay to be gay. The whole thing about there being same sex orientation about is that one standard word to describe all is no longer enough (mono-cultural to bi-cultural and multi-cultural is also a complication) – but we all still have our human rights.

  5. The unresolved matters seem to be

    1. the decision-making of individual celebrants as to which occasions they officiate at. Are they liable to discrimination charges if they refuse same sex marriages (I presume the lack of this being an issue for civil unions so far means this is not so)? Can their immunity from charges of discrimination be guaranteed by legislation?

    2. the right of a church to refuse application of religious use buildings to outside groups without liability to discrimination charges – including of course for same sex marriage with an independent celebrant. Can this be guaranteed by legislation?

    There is form by activists in North America to take on churches and others in these two areas.

    Basically the import being to secure rights for one minority without infringing on the rights of another.

  6. Although I have not submitted on this Bill, there are a number of Bills upon which I have done so, and if I’m submitting I expect to invest at least some time considering what it is I want to say and how I want to say it. Just sending in a rote submission is, in my opinion, a disservice both to me, and the issue.

    I too am interested in how much or little weight these bulk submissions have at the table.

  7. Thanks for the summary, Kevin. I’m not sure how frequently these comment threads are read by MPs, but…

    Most of the submissions opposed to the Bill used, paraphrased or even quoted verbatim the Family First submission guide.

    In your experience on select committees is there ever much point in paraphrasing or re-submitting someone else’s submission verbatim? Do 1000 mailed postcards have as much influence as 10 individually considered submissions?

    I’ve often had groups (eg. Forest & Bird, Sensible Sentencing, probably even the Green Party) try to get me to sign a page they’ve written and submit it, or something similar. I think if I was on the receiving side of that, I’d not see much more than a lobbying group that’s good at aggressively finding people to sign a piece of paper on 2 minutes thought. I sort of figure that if I care enough about something to submit on it, the least I can do is think about it and articulate my own point of view, even if it’s to say “I agree with [blah1] except for their specific view on [blah2] because I think [blah3]” instead of regurgitating someone else’s lines.

  8. Good to know about that dictionary thing. So for example, the word “gay” now means just what it did 100 years ago? I thought so.

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