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Title: Referenda:Family First's Post-Materialist Delusion Credit: Craig Young Comment Thursday 11th April 2013 - 4:35pm1365654900 Article: 13167 Rights
 
The Christian Right was feeling very depressed about the whole marriage equality debacle... Several overseas LGBT political commentators have discussed the relative restraint and civility of New Zealand's marriage equality debate with me, as well as the seeming irrelevance of the Christian Right to the whole debate. There is a reason for this. Mainstream New Zealand political debate is about material concerns, such as the impending closure of the Tiwai aluminium smelter and the destructive effects on Invercargill's local economy, the continuing Novopay teacher's pay debacle, privacy violations within New Zealand's public sector organisations, Christchurch earthquake reconstruction, North Island drought, unemployment and related anxieties. These are practical, bread-and-butter concerns. Rightly, they take political priority. I don't begrudge them that, nor do I begrudge them for being at the core of New Zealand political debate at present. Every political debate in New Zealand needs to recognise that it is occuring against the backdrop of a global economic crisis and severe domestic recession, including that which has occurred over marriage equality and adoption reform over the last seven months. It has affected Family First, for example- they have suffered a serious donor shortfall, given that their usual fundamentalist small business donors have had to focus on their core commercial activities and have been unable to provide them with donor income to finance their pressure group activities. Thus, during the current marriage equality debate, we haven't seen much in the way of the usual paraphenalia of political campaigns from them- badges, billboards, prepackaged placards, bumper stickers, newspaper, television or radio advertisments against marriage equality. Instead, they have confined their activities to their core website and its satellites, Protect Marriage, MacBlog and My Marriage Pledge, as well as their allies at Right to Life and the Conservative Party. At the same time, long-time fundamentalist newspaper Challenge Weekly is apparently switching to web-only format. While they've printed pamphlets and brochures, they're based on templates from their website. Compare this to our side of the debate. Legalise Love and Marriage Equality have outflanked Family First on nearly every front- it took until the Committee stage for the Christian Right to put together aseveral-hundredperson demonstration masquerading as a 'prayer vigil,' conveniently organised by past Conservative Party candidate Gordon Copeland, whileLegalise Love managed it far more effortlessly just before the first reading.Marriage Equality New Zealand put together a celebrity endorsementvideofor marriage equality,and even managed to outflank Family First when it came to the select committee phase of the debate. From a tactical and strategic perspective, Family First's dependency on US Christian Right organisations like the Family Research Council, Witherspoon Instituteand National Organisation for Marriagefor its propaganda against marriage equality and same-sex parenting has been absurdly easy to counter. Why? I think it might have something to do with Australia. Let's face it, Mardi Gras is an amazing spectacle and an excellent dance party, but apart from transgender rights where the reverse is true, Australia is falling behind the United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand when it comes to LGBT rights such as marriage equality, if not adoption reform. Its Sex Discrimination Act will outlaw discrimination against LGBTI individuals at the federal level, and must be commended for its inclusion of transgendered and intersex people, but it also contains ridiculously broad exemptions for religious organisations engaged in delegated secular service delivery roles and occupations. However, the Australian Labor Party is seriously out of step with its British and New Zealand counterparts when it comes to LGBT inclusion and support for issues like marriage equality. Rudd and Gillard were the worst possible choices when it came to pandering to conservative Catholic ALP supporters. And, given the fact that the immediate propsect of a Tony Abbott-led Liberal/National Coalition administration is even worse, and that the recession has also hit Australia, there is little incentive for lesbian and gay New Zealanders to cross the Tasman for anything other than holidays or dance parties. As a consequence, lesbian and gay New Zealanders have stayed put and this has probably had the consequence of enhancing the skill base and infrastructure of LGBT lobby groups like Legalise Love, Marriage Equality New Zealand and Queer Avengers. To return to the title of this article, what do I mean by "post-materialism?" "Post-materialism" used to be a fashionable centre-left political theory that material needs had been met and that the working class was no longer meaningful as either a political constituency or subject for political analysis and mobilisation. However, as the current global recession has shown, that was a delusion of relative prosperity and recovery from the stock market crash of the late eighties. Simply, it isn't true. And, as a consequence, the materialist dimension of economic inequality remains important to contemporary New Zealand political debate, as can be seen by my summary of the above issues. We can appeal to these contemporary priorities. When we entered on the marriage equality and adoption reform debate, it was appreciated that this would be circumscribed, time-limited and a private member's bill. Moreover, marriage equality will take nothing material or tangible away from anyone else- in fact, it might have economic dividends and create employment within the tourism and hospitality industries if the proper marketing is done to lucrative North American and European LGBT market segments. However, the same cannot be said for the foolish Family First and Conservative Party blindness when it comes to binding citizens referenda. Not only is it creating stresses and strains with their erstwhile conservative Catholic allies over their counterproductive aspects when it comes to euthanasia law reform, there is also the practical question of the expense involved. After all, Family First's last probelting referendum (2009) cost nine million dollars, and New Zealand's economic situation has worsened since then. Moreover, the money for this populist folly has to come from somewhere and this may well be further health and social service cuts to vulnerable New Zealanders in need, particularly families and children at risk. Prime Minister Key has pointed out that California's referendum addiction has bankrupted that US state economy and he is correct, whatever cavalier and cursory dismissals from right-wing referenda activists like Nelson's Amy Brooke might indicate. New Zealand can have continual referenda and escalating social service cutbacks for the weak, vulnerable and needy, or it can have quality social services and reserve referenda primarily for major constitutional reforms. Given the current dire economic situation for this country, it cannot have both. It's time that a certain unrepresentative, sectarian religious pressure group whose activists have never held public office and faced political and economic realities recognised that. Recommended: "Antismacking debate goes to referendum" 3 News: 15.06.09: http://www.3news.co.nz/Anti- smacking-debate-goes-to- referendum/tabid/423/ articleID/108706/Default.aspx Andrew Geddis and Bridget Fenton: "CIRS" New Zealand Law Journal: October 2009 (334-336) Toby Jones: "Device of Despots?" History Today: 62.5 (May 2012): 16-18 David Broder: Democracy Derailed: Initiative Campaigns and the Power of Money: Harvest Books: 2001 Richard Ellis: Democratic Delusions: The Initiative Process in America: University of Kansas Press: 2002. Peter Schrag: Paradise Lost? California's Experience , America's Future? New York: New Press: 1998. Peter Schrag: "Take the Initiative, Please: Referenda Madness in California" American Prospect: http://www.prospect.org/print/ V7/28/schrag-p.html Wikipedia: Referendums in New Zealand: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Referendums_in_New_Zealand Not Recommended: Amy Brooke: The 100 Days: Claiming Back New Zealand: Howling at the Moon: Auckland: 2013.       Craig Young - 11th April 2013    
 
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