Title: Marriage Equality: Lessons from the Pioneers Credit: Craig Young Comment Friday 13th July 2012 - 12:12pm1342138320 Article: 11986 Rights
What can New Zealand learn from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Argentina, South Africa and Canada, all of whom already have same sex marriage proper? Contrary to Rodney Croome and his Australians for Marriage Equality, I would argue that civil unions or registered partnerships are probably an essential interim step to same-sex marriage proper. In each of the pioneering nations cited, there was usually passage of civil unions/registered partnership legislation beforehand, preceding moves toward formal marriage equality. In each case, centre-right parties, leading centre-left, green and classical liberal parties and individuals to strategise for the reform in question, and reap the rewards of electoral popularity and the LGBT vote in due course. Encouragingly, some of the prior centre-right administrations did play their role in engineering inclusive adoption reform beforehand, so all may not be completely lost with the Key administration if it judges that there will be minimal negative political fallout from that. Most of the same-sex marriage pioneers had the advantage of substantial social secularisation and resultant weakness in conservative Christian economies of scale and political mobilisation. Within parliamentary fora, most of the opposition came from conservative populist and anti-immigrant parties, akin to our own New Zealand First, leaving opposition outside parliamentary settings to their Christian Right movements and non-parliamentary fundamentalist microparties. Civil unions and registered partnerships have definite tactical and strategic value if the example of the pioneers are followed. They take the issues of substantive relationship equality out of the picture well beforehand, and demonstrate greater social secularisation to begin with. Thus, it becomes easier for the general public to accept the merely formal, ceremonial and ritual transition from civil unions to civil marriage, assisted by pre-existing high levels of non-marital cohabitation and prevalence of straight civil marriages against religious ceremonies. Over time, public opinion liberalises, leaving religious social conservative opponents isolated, apart from older age cohorts- as already seems to be happening with Family First and the Conservative Party here. Similarly, centre-left politicians have often introduced their equivalents of private members bills on marriage equality beforehand, often as a prelude to centre-left governments adopting marriage equality as a government bill when they win power. Louisa Wall has done so in our own context. The Danish Social Democrats and French Socialists are contemporary examples of such developments. If New Zealand follows this pattern, then we can probably expect to see the following developments. A centre-left government is elected in 2014 or 2017, and at some point, a Labour/Green coalition government passes marriage equality legislation, also supported by liberal National MPs, but opposed by New Zealand First, if Winston Peters is still around and if his party is still represented in Parliament. It would probably be easier if we helped to insure that Labour and the Greens had a 'clean' majority beforehand. The Christian Right will throw its usual temper tantrums and slavishly imitate its US Christian Right counterparts insofar as propaganda, tactics and strategy go. Based on overseas experience, adoption reform may be passed beforehand, either by the Key administration or the incoming new centre-left government. One notes that the societies in question usually had written constitutions with equality rights clauses, and in none of them were there any discriminatory straights-only constitutional barriers to same-sex marriage- those appear restricted to Eastern Europe, the United States and Australia. Finally, I would note that in each of the cases cited here, there was ample preparation beforehand, which means that lobby groups will have to be established, competitor monitoring of the New Zealand and overseas Christian Right will need to occur so we can second-guess their propaganda, tactics and strategies and proactive voter mobilisation will need to occur so that we can minimise parliamentary opposition. By 2014/2017, New Zealand LGBT communities will need to be ready and able to fight these final battles on the road to full equality. Recommended: Mads Andanaes and Robert Wintemute (eds) Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Partnerships: Hart Publishing: Oxford: 2001. Jens Rydstrom: Odd Couples: A History of Gay Marriage in Scandinavia: Amsterdam University Press: 2011 Sylvain Larocque: Gay Marriage: The Story of a Canadian Social Revolution: Lorimer: 2006. Ronald Cohn and Jesse Russell: Same-Sex Marriage in Spain: VSD: 2012. Melanie Judge et al: To Have and to Hold: The Making of Same-Sex Marriage in South Africa: Jacana Media: 2009. Craig Young - 13th July 2012    
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