|Contributor Diane Sparkes questions why, in this 21st century, where the idea of freedom for all is considered a right, we accept a form of bullying by one section of society that is unacceptable in general terms by the rest of society.
Considering the term bully, there are many definitions for this despicable act, like intimidating, persecuting, tormenting, terrorising, pressurising, domineering and oppressing. A bully then, is someone who uses their power in a manner detrimental to society’s expectations.
So what is the purpose of this article, and how is it important to the Marriage Equality Bill currently before parliament? Its importance relates to the views of an essential minority of people who wish to dominate society based on their own views and ideals.
The minority in this case are those religious fundamentalists and idealists, wolves in sheep’s clothing who want nothing more than to intimidate and enforce on society their own ideals based on phobias and religion.
In the corporate world when organisations become too powerful, society regulates how much power they are allowed to hold by the use of competition, legislation and recently social media to maintain their power to an acceptable level.
Religious organisations operate in a similar manner, however no competition exists, and with their right to religious freedom no legislation can be enacted. Also as religion is such a personal issue, social media tends not to go there. So what must society do to keep them in check, in order to maintain their influence to that of a minority?
Obviously we cannot rely on their stated ideals as a means of self- discipline because those all too often are inconsistent and change depending on the issue!
Historically it was never the intention of the government to allow dominance by religion; in fact early New Zealand was made up of hard working people from the lower classes of English society for whom religion was of little consequence. As more affluent individuals came to settle, many felt their spiritual needs required attention and wanted religious rights. But this was not for everyone, like today not everyone sees spirituality as important in their lives, so it was then.
The government of the day quickly recognised an issue developing and decided that it would not force on all the people, a religious establishment they did not all want. It is because of that decision; no state religion exists today in New Zealand.
With the arrival of these more influential and religious settlers and with the missionaries power increasing, the government was eventually pressured into accepting their spiritual needs should be included in the rights of the people. The Government relented, giving all citizens, the right to religious freedom.
That was then, but today’s New Zealand is a far cry from that of the past. Or is it?
Today’s society operates in a far more relaxed and informed manner, communication; (the background of society) is so much more effective and instantly able to reach more people than ever before. With the decline of religion in this country, people, and in particular younger people are more educated and more easily see through the religious indoctrination of the past, and they are voting with their feet.
This is not to say they have given up their spirituality, far from it, but education has provided them with the way to see reality, and most of all recognise the importance of equality. Of importance, is how the various religions have failed to keep up with modern New Zealand, they have also failed to recognise the impact of social media. Our youth, together with so many others see this whole, “do as we say, not as we do” mentality, as a joke, and simply refuse to accept it.
How can for example, the people see comments made by the Catholic Church that being Gay is a sin, when there are so many examples within their own ranks, following the revelation of the involvement of catholic priests with young boys. Surely if they are serious, on the validity of their beliefs then a stronger response from the man at the top should be expected, but no! After all when any large corporate organisation has representatives that fail to stand up to the company’s objectives, outrage and the demand for resignations are instantly called for.
If we accept the existence of these religious minorities in our society, it is society’s duty to expect them to stand up for what they believe, and they must be seen to have a consistent approach to their beliefs on all matters. Through the use of worldwide communications, society very easily notices when these religious organisations remain silent, while at the same time they become vocal on issues of the same ideals as it suits them.
The situation on homosexuality in Uganda where the government proposed to kill gay people, and imprison those who fail to report them including transgender people, whose only association is that of being included in the LGBT label, is a prime example of the inconsistency and integrity of their beliefs.
The Catholic Church and the Salvation Army have remained noticeable silent on the issue. How can they possibly expect to have any credibility when they object to the equality of marriage for Gay people? Surely it is unreasonable for them to expect society to accept their view as responsible or even acceptable, when they hold (by their silence) one rule for people in one land but maintain another rule for people in another.
What more proof does society need on the inconsistency of their ideals, and while such discrimination might have worked in the old days when education lacked and communication was limited, it can no longer be tolerated today.
It appears that those at the forefront of these organisations are seriously out of touch with the reality of today’s world, and their old, but certainly failing, bullyboy tactics; there assumed, but invalid power, will not work.
As a society what can we do?
We have certain minority religious organisations who wish to have their rights upheld while at the same time; they deny the rights of others. In any democratic society this must be unacceptable; the two views cannot exist together. Ideally, society would be entirely in order to say to these organisations that it respects their right to religious freedom but does not accept their attempts to intimidate the rest of society with their ideals.
On its own, society can do very little on this situation because we live in a democracy, which gives everyone freedom to express their own opinions, but do they have the right to use intimidation to enforce theirs.
Ultimately, parliament will make the decision on Marriage Equality; however parliament is made up of elected officials, namely our members of parliament. (MP’s) They have the unenviable task of doing right by everyone in society, but this is where the situation gets worse. Some of those MP’s themselves fall into the category of belonging to the religious minority.
The government has chosen to use the conscience vote process in order that its members are not forced into voting against their personal beliefs. But some of these members by their own religious standing will then be able to use the power given them by the people, against the people. Society’s expectations of our parliament are that they will do what is right for the whole of society, the majority.
Sadly this is a failure of the conscience voting system, and the question must also be asked, is this right on this issue?
Parliament does however provide a way out for any MP in this situation, allowing them to ignore the bully and abstain from voting. The trouble is society cannot seem to make up its mind, particularly in NZ where it is considered that someone who abstains has no opinion.
The issue of Marriage Equality is not about opinion but about equality for all! There is no reason to expect our MPs to behave any more than human, but faced by this kind of decision the affected MP has no choice but to ignore the ranting of the religious minority including their own if that applies, and abstain from the vote, with the full support of the people, respecting their decision to abstain without recrimination by anyone.
This is right on a democratic basis; it is a test for the whole of society, will society demand all opinions to be put to one side and allow Equality for all. Maybe, just maybe the bully might rethink their ideals, recognising they are only one part of society and refrain from intimidating the rest.
Diane Sparkes is a writer, retired teacher, trans activist and trans youth advocate. Diane Sparkes - 13th December 2012