Title: Repression's Gargoyles Credit: Craig Young Comment Wednesday 13th July 2011 - 10:25am1310509500 Article: 10603 Rights
During the long-drawn out debate to get homosexual law reform passed, LGBT communities paid for our relative lack of preparation initially. By the end of that period, many of us vowed that we would never be caught so unaware against the Christian Right again. Until the mid-eighties, though, homosexual law reform was only a secondary target of conservative Christian pressure groups. Instead, they expended most of their activity against the liberalisation of abortion access during the seventies, as well as the introduction of comprehensive, evidence-based sex education within the schools. Before the passage of homosexual law reform proper, there were three prior attempts, all attempted during the period of the repressive and authoritarian Muldoon administration and all of which foundered. By 1983, the abortion debate had more or less settled down to the status quo as it is today- liberal abortion access within a formally restrictive framework that has no real effect. We should have been forewarned when the New Zealand Christian Right turned its attention to another target- the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, in 1983. By that time, I was studying political science at the University of Canterbury and I noticed something about the rhetoric of New Zealand Christian Right organisations like "Women for Life" (an anti-feminist group) and its allies- they were parrotting the propaganda deployed against the Equal Rights Amendment in the United States. At the same time, New Zealand anti-abortion groups started to get more radical and militant, protesting outside abortion clinics. Again, they did so because of tactical and strategic advice from the US Christian Right. Gay men couldn't say that we were forewarned. Actually, though, apolitical gender separatism was the rule within gay male communities during the 'long seventies,' which may explain why I spent most of my time elsewhere than within the inert and conservative gay community when it came to political initiatives. As for lesbians, they were on the frontline, battling alongside straight feminists when it came to securing abortion rights. In 1984, Muldoon was finally defeated and steady social and political reform began. Backbench Labour MP Fran Wilde introduced her Homosexual Law Reform Bill. It stirred up a ferocious response from rural and provincial city social conservatives and their fellow travellers and entryists. They regarded us as harbingers of 'sodomy', an archaic medieval hodgepodge of all manner of non-heterosexual and non-reproductive sex. Opportunist National Party fundamentalist MPs like John Banks, Graeme Lee and others jumped onboard, sensing an opportunity to defeat the newly incumbent Lange Labour administration. Conservative Christian pressure groups concentrated their venom into a central antigay/Christian Right lobby group, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens. However, debate continued, but then something began to happen. Mainstream liberal straight New Zealand took a good, hard look at the militant fundamentalist Protestants who opposed homosexual law reform and didn't like what they saw. In addition to propaganda, tactics and strategy, US Christian Right activists like Louis Sheldon (Traditional Values Coalition, California) openly admitted one of the purposes was defeat of the Lange administration and subversion of its popular antinuclear policies. At the same time, the Christian Right coalesced into a Coalition of Concerned Citizens, which held a Nuremberg style rally at Parliament, and presented an alleged eight hundred thousand signature petition- which turned out to be full of forged signatures and was subsequently disregarded. Medical practitioners also commented on the HIV/AIDS epidemic, noting that it would be easier to contain and control if gay male sex were decriminalised. From this, we learnt an invaluable lesson- mass movements and strategic professional alliances produce social reform. Ultimately, public opinion turned in favour of reform. The Christian Right tried to avenge itself on the Labour Party through infiltrating weak National Party branches with militant fundamentalist parachute candidates. It didn't work in 1987. As a consequence of public backlash against the perceived extremist candidates, Jim Bolger decided to play pragmatist and promote capable centre-right social liberals within his party. It worked, and his administration turned out to be the one that passed the Human Rights Act in 1993. Angered at this, the Christian Right turned on the National Party and backed MMP as its preferred electoral option during the electoral reform referendum later that year. In temrs of organisations and tactics, the Coalition of Concerned Citizens was infiltrated by right-wing extremists, so its more 'moderate' elements formed the Christian Heritage Party, based on New South Wales and Canadian counterpart seperatist fundamentalist parties. However, that turned out to be dominated by the tiny Reformed Church sect, and its death penalty restoration agenda didn't sit well with other fundamentalist Protestants and conservative Catholics. In 1995, the latter formed the Christian Democrats, which metamorphosed into Future New Zealand and then fused with Peter Dunne's United Party to form United Future in 2000. Briefly, United Future was represented in Parliament, but in 2006, it split over Dunne's support for repeal of Section 59 of the Crimes Act (over corporal punishment of children), resulting in the Kiwi Party. The latter is now New Zealand's only surviving separatist fundamentalist party, after Graham Capill, former CHP leader, was found guilty of serial pedophilia in 2005 and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. Fundamentalist political parties weren't the only response to the aftermath of homosexual law reform. In 1996, a short-lived centralised lobby group, the Strategic Leadership Network, materialised in Wellington and brokered a Christian Coalition, born of the mismatched Christian Heritage Party and Christian Democrats. However, after revelations of extremism, the party failed to win any parliamentary representation and fell apart in 1997. As for the Strategic Leadership Network, it fell victim to a donor shortfall and was forced to close that same year. Meanwhile, in Christchurch, the Education Development Foundation metamorphosed into the Maxim Institute, led by Bruce Logan, former Orewa College Principal and Curriculum Director at Christchurch's Middleton Grange, New Zealand's largest fundamentalist school. For many years, Logan wrote Christchurch Press columns, until revelations that he had apparently plagiarised some content in 2005, leading to his resignation. By then, the Clark administration had passed the Civil Union Act in 2005. Maori and Pacific Island fundamentalists were missing from the Christian Right of the eighties. This was little wonder, given the vitriolic racism and consorting with neofascists and right-wing extremists that went on between the far right, anti-Semitic and racist League of Rights, Coalition of Concerned Citizens and rest of the Christian Right during the eighties. Maori land, language and cultural renewal were branded as 'communist' and 'neomarxist' by such elements. Brian Tamaki emerged in the mid-noughties, but to date, his Destiny Church is the Maori Christian Right. Like the Christian Heritage Party and its microparty status, mainstream Maori ignore the antics of Brian and Hannah Tamaki. Pakeha fundamentalists also strongly dislike them. And so to today. Battered and bruised, the New Zealand Christian Right is in bad shape. Most of its venom is currently concentrated within Family First, founded by former Radio Rhema talkback host Bob McCoskrie in 2006. That organisation has connections with UK Christian Right organisations like the Christian Institute, notorious for its failed opposition to gay adoption in 2002. It also has a ring of small business donors. Given the current recession and fragile finances of the rest of the Christian Right, it may be the case that it will be our chief opponent when the time comes for the final tranche of LGBT legislative reforms- transgender equality, adoption reform and same-sex marriage proper. Meanwhile, Key administration welfare privatisation raises new and disturbing questions about whether or not Christian Right "social service providers" might acquire government funds while discriminating against vulnerable lesbians, gay men and members of the transgender community. Our legislative momentum has not been slowed by the Christian Right. It is highly dependent on overseas sources for its propaganda, tactics and strategy and the Internet makes surveillance and strategic response from our communities much easier than it was during the eighties and nineties. It also lacks specific antigay-focused organisations, unlike the United States. Faced with this, it may now be the case that the New Zealand Christian Right is starting to reorient toward opposition to euthanasia, drug policy liberalisation and support for welfare outsourcing. Only time will tell. Craig Young - 13th July 2011    
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