Title: Marriage Equality: Alternative Americas? Credit: Craig Young Comment Friday 22nd February 2013 - 12:15pm1361488500 Article: 12954 Rights
What relationships do either side of the marriage equality debate have with the United States? It's more complicated than one might think. For starters, who would have thought that LGBT and other liberal New Zealanders would be cheering on a two-term Democrat African-American President (Barack Obama), while Family First and other New Zealand religious social conservatives seemed dismayed at his re-election last year, even given its minimal effect on domestic New Zealand politics? Certainly not me, thirty years or so ago, gritting his teeth at the antics of Ronald Reagan amidst US military adventurism and spreading religious social conservatism. My changing attitudes reflect collective New Zealand perceptions of the United States, which have shifted over time. Due to British imperial decline, we welcomed US military assistance against the aggressive Japanese Empire's Pacific War expansion during the Second World War. In the fifties, though, we became less enthusiastic about US popular culture, as New Zealand communists (!) and conservative professional groups launched a pro-censorship moral panic against imported US horror comics. During the sixties, apprehension spread amongst New Zealand university students over the Vietnam War, although during the seventies, there was a quite convivial relationship between US and New Zealand New Left groups, including lesbian feminists and gay liberationists on both sides of the Pacific. That changed in 1980, when the United States elected Ronald Reagan as its President and mainstream New Zealanders became increasingly concerned about US military adventurism and its nuclear arms race against the United States. And so, in the mid-eighties, New Zealand and the United States parted ways over New Zealand's nuclear free policies. New Zealand LGBT communities fought the New Zealand Christian Right, soon finding that it was a mere satellite of the US Christian Right insofar as propaganda, tactics and strategies went. In 1986, the divergence was epitomised when New Zealand's Parliament passed the Homosexual Law Reform Act and decriminalised male homosexuality, while the US Supreme Court upheld conservative Georgia's antigay "anti-sodomy" law in Bowers versus Hardwick. Although the US Supreme Court reversed that in 2003, in Lawrence versus Texas, the same stark polarity exists today. Due to encouragement by the Bush administration (2000-2008), numerous US states have statutes or constitutional amendments that have outlawed marriage equality, while New Zealand is debating it within our national Parliament. And Family First still takes its cues from US Christian Right groups like the Family Research Council and National Organisation for Marriage, as well as other US Christian Right satellites like extremist Australian Bill Muehlenberg, the UK Christian Institute and Canada's Lifesite. However, New Zealand society, politics and culture have changed around it. New Zealand today is a different society than it was during the days of battle over homosexual law reform. It is far more secularised, multicultural and there is greater recognition of religious and ethnic diversity than was the case in the mid-eighties. Even New Zealand's centre-right National Party has recognised this and adapted to it, with more in common with similar centre-right social liberal elements within the British and Canadian Conservative Parties than with the US Republicans and Australian Liberals. In economic terms, it's a different world as well. Due to corporate mismanagement and breakneck US military adventurism during the Bush administration, the United States is caught in a pattern of severe economic decline, akin to the British Empire and Commonwealth after the First and Second World Wars. As global citizens, we live in a multipolar world now, with China as our second largest trading partner, having recently overtaken the United States. So, what do we make of the United States today? Certainly, we have some empathy toward President Obama, given his endorsement of marriage equality and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (a federal US antidiscrimination bill which will outlaw employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation) as well as his abolition of military service discrimination. And certainly, Pacific Northwestern and New England US states share common cultural and social values with New Zealand, unlike the Southern United States. The latter is a backward, toxic far right wasteland which has excessive influence over US politics due to its Republican Party stranglehold. Family First may slavishly imitate the likes of the Family Research Council, Witherspoon Institute and National Organisation for Marriage over its opposition to marriage equality, but New Zealand politics and society are more akin to those of Western Europe than that of the United States. And so, we've come full circle. Ironically enough, it is the New Zealand Christian Right who are today's anti-Americans.   Craig Young - 22nd February 2013    
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