Title: Marriage Equality: Looking into the Abyss? Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 2nd August 2012 - 10:18am1343859480 Article: 12074 Rights
As my forte is critical analysis of the Christian Right, I thought I'd have a good hard look at what opposition we're likely to face against marriage equality. In some ways, we have a strategic advantage when it comes to this particular debate, albeit for some unlikely reasons. New Zealand is in recession, and during recessions, charities and voluntary organisations find the going gets tough in terms of disposable income and charitable donations, unless the organisation has a recognisable brand, like Greenpeace. This has meant a scale back in the number of Christian Right pressure groups and their disposable income. At present, there are three major Christian Right pressure groups. We can discount Right to Life New Zealand, given that it's primarily an anti-abortion group and is fixated on its vendetta against the Abortion Supervisory Committee within the Supreme Court. If that goes against it, some intriguing questions arise, especially if costs are awarded against it. That will mean that they may have to resort to pleas for donor support. Given New Zealand's small size and the shrinking religious social conservative catchment, that will drain the funding available for antigay initiatives. The Conservative Party is also a damp squib. When it polled two and three quarter per cent at the last general election, that may have been its high water mark. It isn't represented in Parliament and if it pursues an unpopular goal like opposition to marriage equality, it risks raising antagonism amongst National Party faithful, who already dislike its elastic stance against asset sales and clip-on policies outside its core religious social conservative objections. It risks becoming a liability to the Key administration and a deterrent to centre-right support. Colin Craig might not see it that way, but I doubt whether National wants a repetition of the Christian Coalition's voter erosion effect in 2014. Still, that hasn't stopped Colin Craig from ruminating that homosexuality isn't 'normal' and promising a 'research-based campaign' that would look 'intelligently' at same-sex parenting and ask whether 'gender' and 'role modelling' were important. That should be a new experience for the militant fundamentalist real estate millionaire, who would reportedly use his own private wealth to fund the campaign. That leaves Family First. What is one to make of this organisation? Bob McCoskrie is its only visible spokesperson, the pressure group organises annual Forums for the Family, they distribute Value Your Vote form guides for political party leaders and parliamentary parties at general and Auckland local elections, but it doesn't have much of a 'research' presence. Its website regularly reprints information from US, Canadian, Australian and UK Christian Right pressure groups and 'news sites' - in fact, one could say that it is heavily dependent on its overseas equivalents. Moreover, at the June 2012 Forum on the Family, one could perceive a shortfall in usual business donors, and linkages to the World Congress of Families, a US-based international Christian Right assembly of anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-feminist pressure groups. We are now witnessing US Christian Right tactical and strategic assistance to its New Zealand satellite movements over this issue. However, this has the capacity to backfire on them. Within New Zealand, Christian religious observance has experienced accelerated population decline over the last few national censuses, which means increasing secularity and antipathy for 'bully pulpit' religious interference in public policy debates. Indeed, this is already happening. On Family First's website, there was a link to an article from Robert George, a US conservative Catholic 'natural law' theorist and opponent of same-sex marriage. George argued that the 'essential' purpose of straight marriage was reproductive, which is a sectarian assertion. Several days later, Right to Life New Zealand (an anti-abortion group) followed suit. Coincidentally or not, Robert George is about to visit New Zealand as a guest of the Maxim Institute, according to that organisation's website. Also "coincidentally," (?) George is also closely involved with the Bradley Foundation, Hoover Institution and Witherspoon Institute, key funders of the flawed Regnerius attack on same-sex parenting from the University of Texas, widely criticised as containing serious methodological flaws. Given that there's also voluntary childlessness, infertility, divorce, contraception and civil marriage to consider how can it be said that straight marriages invariably have religious justification and reproduction as a central objective? Does that mean we shouldn't allow disabled people to get married if their ovaries or testes are inoperative? Of course not, that would be disability discrimination. George's argument is an attack on meaningful religious freedom, freedom from religious coercion and faith/state separation. George also goes further than that within his article, implying that he'd be happy to see special rights for religious social conservatives, allowing them to discriminate against LGBT individuals even if they're employed in secular jobs or receiving public funds for carrying out duties delegated to them. I doubt whether many New Zealanders would buy this. It looks too extreme. Moreover, the new "Protect Marriage' website is an obvious rush job. Much of the research that it includes is focused predominantly on straight cohabitation, childcare and solo parenting and is simply irrelevant to debates about same-sex marriage and parenting. Of the material that isn't, again, some of its 'facts' are inapplicable to contexts outside the United States. There are also some outright lies and distortions apparent. Homosexuality is not directly related to pedophilia, and mainstream pediatricians and developmental psychologists tell us so. Note Mark Pietrzyk's piece, cited below. In other cases, inapplicable disciplinary judgements are made by those who lack direct professional expertise- such as demographer Steven Nock of the University of Virginia, who has no qualifications in pediatrics or developmental psychology. Bob McCoskrie is also not particularly good at keeping up with LGBT-related news, citing the likes of Robert Spitzer, who has disowned his earlier 'exgay' study, or David Blankenhorn, who now supports same-sex marriage, or Hans-Christian Raabe, who was kicked off the UK Expert Advisory Committee on Drugs for his involvement in one UK antigay 'research' piece cited here. Speaking of which, the Marriage Equality New Zealand website needs its own same-sex parenting research section to counter this. Webmaster please take note. As for the media reports section, they seem to be merely accumulating Family First media coverage from Radios Rhema, Live, Shine Television, TV3 and TVNZ. Not a bad idea, actually, and our own Marriage Equality New Zealand website needs to follow suit. I'm not sure that the cybervandalism episode did anything to change perceptions. Let's fight junk science and Christian Right propaganda with evidence-based scientific and medical research, as well as accurate information about overseas developments. Marriage Equality New Zealand needs a research officer. Everything about this website screams shoddy rush job. Added to which, the US Christian Right isn't all that good at exporting its message to developed world venues outside Australia- and there's a formidable heritage of scepticism and disdain for the United States and its recent military adventurism in the Middle East, whatever the merits of President Obama. By contrast, Canada and the United Kingdom have either legislated for same-sex marriage, or are doing so, which will burnish public opinion in favour of this particular reform. We must not be complacent. Although the initial strategic situation looks good, we must be vigilant when it comes to Family First and its counterparts, and be prepared to lobby vigorously for this reform. We must also not be disheartened if this particular marriage equality bill is defeated- the same happened in other jurisdictions. It will mean that marriage equality is only delayed, probably until the next centre-left administration is elected. Of course, centre-right social liberals are our allies on this issue and may be valuable in persuading National MPs and United Future that if Prime Minister Cameron and modernist UK Conservative Party MPs support marriage equality, then why shouldn't New Zealand follow suit? Apparently, that argument is good enough for John Key, who has now made clear his holistic support for marriage equality. (It hasn't convinced Eric Roy and Mark Mitchell (National), who were identifiable religious social conservatives long before this. And then there's New Zealand First List MP Richard Prosser, who doesn't like Muslims either, and who is a contributor to Ian Wishart's bizarre Investigate magazine). Predictably, Winston Peters and the rest of his caucus have abdicated all semblance of responsibility in the context of marriage equality and are calling for a referendum- at a time of global recession, when What arguments will antigay groups field against same-sex marriage proper and how might we respond? In a forthcoming article, I'll tackle those questions. Recommended: Mark Pietrzyk: Homosexuality and Child Sexual Abuse: Marriage Equality New Zealand: Not recommended: Family First: Bob McCoskrie Blog: Conservative Party: World Congress of Families: "Gay marriage opponents line up to fight Wall's bill" New Zealand Herald: 28.07.2012:  
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