|Is the Christian Right united over opposition to marriage equality? If so, then where are the Conservative Party's Colin Craig and Right to Life New Zealand?
Checking Google's newslistings, I noted that the last Colin Craig media releases reported occurred in the Nelson Mail and Marlborough Express (25/26 October). I also checked the Conservative Party's website for any updates on party activities or leader media releases- only to find similar relative silence. It's not that Colin Craig and his Conservative Party are not opposed to marriage equality- they have taken the negative position in some public debates. However, recently, there was an odd prolonged silence, until he resurfaced in the Bay of Plenty Sun.
Even then, that story had nothing to do with marriage equality, but with Craig's shift of location to Tauranga, formerly a long-term constituency electorate for New Zealand First, until Bob Clarkson and Simon Bridges won the seat back for National in 2005 and 2008. Evidently, Craig thinks that there is still enough residual electoral populism within the constituency to win the seat himself, or it may simply be that he has more support within the traditionally far right provincial city seat and rural hinterland than within New Zealand's metropolitan, pluralist cities.
Similarly, Right to Life has taken a similar back seat when it comes to opposition to marriage equality. During the entire period of the New Zealand marriage equality debate, it has made only three media statements about its oppositional stance, while promoting a new conservative Catholic book on the subject from one Michael Cook. Even one of them was a reprint of an original article from the conservative Catholic Australian Mercatornet website. It also has to contend with the question of payment due after its failed marathon court vendetta against the Abortion Supervisory Committee earlier this year.
It broke its erstwhile silence to produce a laborious and interminable submission to the Government Administration Select Committee, making unreferenced assertions that New Zealand marriage equality should be rejected because it was contrary to premodern, prescientific conservative Catholic 'natural law' assertions, which are not borne out by mainstream scientific and medical evidence in the fields of psychology, pediatrics and developmental psychology when it comes to lesbian and gay sexual identity and same-sex parenting. Moreover, I suspect mainstream classicists will be startled to hear that same-sex marriage was legal in the Roman Empire (which is false) and that an inadequate taxation base, overuse of mercenaries within the Roman Army and weak imperial leadership actually weren't to blame for the fall of Rome (instead of homosexuality).
In short, it was a rambling, poorly edited pompous rush job and it only stayed on the front page of RTLNZ's website for a single day. It then proceeded to return to attacking ALRANZ on the other side of the abortion debate for legitimately raising concerns about the extremism of elements of the New Zealand anti-abortion movement. Significantly, it remained quite silent about binding citizens referenda, one of the key Family First demands in its campaign against marriage equality.
However, it has been far more focused on other priorities, like Maryan Street's End of Life Choices Bill, which will introduce regulated voluntary euthanasia and physician assisted suicide in New Zealand whenever it is introduced, if it makes it past its first reading and the select committee phase. Given the far more significant opposition of the New Zealand Medical Association to decriminalisation of euthanasia, I am pessimistic about its prospects. In addition, the End of Life Choices Bill has aroused concerns about the advisability of Family First and the Conservative Party's obsessions about binding referenda, given the success of libertarian binding referenda that have either decriminalised or maintained access to physician assisted suicide or voluntary euthanasia in Oregon, Washington state and Switzerland. While a fourth such referendum, entitled the Massachusetts Death With Dignity Initiative, narrowly failed, it has aroused concern amongst many conservative Catholic opponents of euthanasia law reform that binding referenda could be used to introduce them within New Zealand.
Unfortunately, their erstwhile fundamentalist Protestant allies are not noted for their strategic reasoning skills or foresight. While some fundamentalist Protestant anti-abortion/anti-euthanasia activists share conservative Catholic apprehension about the possibility of euthanasia decriminalisation through binding referenda, they seem to be the only ones. Significantly, Right to Life hasn't made any announcement over its stance for or against Family First's proposed marriage equality binding referendum.
The issue of binding referenda is threatening to become a "wedge" issue for conservative Catholics when it comes to their opposition to marriage equality, subject to cross-pressures over their more ardent opposition to decriminalisation of euthanasia and physician assisted suicide. If Family First keeps foolishly insisting on a binding referendum on marriage equality and adoption reform, or passage of binding referenda legislation, it will face opposition from conservative Catholics equally determined to prevent the use of binding referenda to introduce or maintain access to euthanasia or physician assisted suicide.
What happens when the Marriage Equality Bill is passed? Family First is visibly neglecting most of its other alleged 'family' issues to deal with opposition to marriage equality, and is already experiencing small business donor shortfall. Significantly, it has been supporters of marriage equality who have been able to rely on overseas LGBT allies to promote our case, and who have been able to hold mass marches in defence of marriage equality.
By contrast, Family First's campaign has been predominantly centred on its "Protect Marriage" front group website- without any visible billboard placards, large brochures, television or radio advertisements visible. From an operational perspective, this makes sense if one has highly limited funds at one's disposal. The recession has hit Family First's former donor small business base hard, and with the re-election of Obama, there is little prospect of "bully pulpit" funds from the United States. Indeed, it is reported that the US National Organisation for Marriage is experiencing a fiscal crisis after it failed to halt pro-equality referenda in Maine, Maryland and Washington state from introducing marriage equality, as well as the failure of a Montana referendum that would have added a state constitutional ban against marriage equality in that state.
One sign of our perceived effectiveness recently appeared in the Economist, the respected UK centre-right financial and business magazine, with a classical liberal stance on matters like abortion rights, drug policy and LGBT rights. They argue that New Zealand is 'preparing to pass' marriage equality legislation!
So, returning to the question of Christian Right unity, where are Right to Life New Zealand and the Conservative Party? They seem to have become aware that Family First probably won't succeed in its current campaign against marriage equality, and have quietly withdrawn to a safer position, awaiting the outcome of their futile battle. When the Marriage Equality Bill passes, Family First may well try to prolong the issue through calls for a binding referendum on the issue, or back New Zealand at the next New Zealand election for that reason. It won't succeed.
Furthermore, if Family First presses the issue, it will alienate conservative Catholics, particularly if the End of Life Choices Bill is introduced into Parliament, passes its first reading, and is sent to the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee for public submissions. Under those circumstances, conservative Catholics may expect any debate over binding referenda to stop altogether, given its threat to their legislative priorities against decriminalisation and introduction of voluntary euthanasia or physician assisted suicide.
The outcome may ultimately be a downsized Christian Right, predominantly conservative Catholic and refocused on opposition to abortion and euthanasia, with no room for Family First amidst a shrunken donor catchment for Christian Right issues. Right to Life New Zealand will become the most prominent surviving organisation on the New Zealand Christian Right, and the Conservative Party may need to accept that the issue of binding referenda will be a liability if it wants to attract conservative Catholic supporters to its ranks.
Given Colin Craig's ingénue status within the New Zealand Christian Right, he and the Conservative Party may end up surviving as well, but only if it adjusts to the emerging post-equality New Zealand political landscape. Whether it has the pragmatism to accept that it will never be able to introduce its core binding referenda policy into Parliament faced with growing conservative Catholic opposition from within its own ranks is a moot point. Still, Colin Craig has withdrawn from public prominence over this issue, so he may be able to survive any demise of Family First after the advent of marriage equality. His shift to Tauranga may reflect acceptance of the inevitable and advance preparation for the next general election.
The bad news is that the Christian Right will survive the advent of marriage equality. The good news is that LGBT rights will be permanently off its agenda, apart from rearguard opposition to transgender rights.
Recommended: "Gay marriage: To have and to hold" Economist: 18.11.2012: http://www.economist.com/news/international/21566626-trend-toward-giving-homosexuals-full-marriage-rights-gaining-momentum-have-and
Hamish Carter: "True blue Conservatives" SunLive: 23.11.2012: http://www.sunlive.co.nz/news/35309-true-blue-conservatives.html
Not Recommended: Family First: http://www.familyfirst.org.nz Protect Marriage: http://www.protectmarriage.org.nz Right to Life: http://www.righttolife.org.nz Conservative Party: http://www.conservativeparty.org.nz Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 20th December 2012