|RIP: New Zealand Christian Right antigay activity? With only three months until the next election, the Christian Right is strangely quiet and apparently, considerably weakened. They couldn't stop marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform, and they may be unable to stop SOP 432. Why?
To be sure, conditions vary considerably amongst the three surviving major New Zealand Christian Right groups. Right to Life has downgraded its website to something less complex, which may indicate that it has finally paid its arrears to the Abortion Supervisory Committee after its failed court case. The Conservatives now seem to be polling only a single percentage point and as National still appears unwilling to gift the fledgeling party a constituency seat given its ambivalence about actually going into coalition with them, they will probably be lucky to poll one half to one third of their initial 2011 election voter share.
However, it should be noted that media opinion tends to be divided on this matter. 3 News argued that National was "about to" provide the Conservatives with a bolthole constituency, given the John Banks electoral fraud guilty verdict and consequent questions about ACT's parliamentary future. However, the Fairfax newspapers and New Zealand Herald have questioned this conclusion, noting that the most often cited three parliamentary seats that are named in this juncture- Upper Harbour, East Coast Bays and Rodney- have all been already claimed by Cabinet Ministers Paula Bennett, incumbent East Coast Bays MP Murray McCully and incumbent National MP Mark Mitchell respectively. Pakuranga and Epsom have also been suggested in this context, but in Pakuranga, liberal National MP Maurice Williamson isn't going to stand down. The Fairfax newspapers have speculated about whether McCully will voluntarily stand aside in return for a promised ambassadorial post under the Key administration, or whether the National Party hierarchy is going to pressure Mitchell to stand aside. In 2011, Mitchell heavily defeated Colin Craig in Rodney. Gaynz.Com will continue to monitor this situation, although it seems that there are currently no National MPs willing to surrender their constituency seats to the newcomer. On June 22nd, however, Colin Craig stated that he had finally chosen to stand in Murray McCully's safe National seat in East Coast Bays. According to the National Business Review, he would make the announcement at Rangitoto College in East Coast Bays- although he stated at the same time that media commentators should read nothing into it as East Coast Bays was merely his party headquarters.
The NBR was somewhat sceptical about Colin Craig's election prospects in East Coast Bays. At the 2011 New Zealand election, McCully held the constituency seat for National with 21, 094 votes, while party votes were similarly one-sided- 21, 079 voters chose National. By comparison, the Conservatives did not field a constituency candidate, but only got 1254 party list votes. Why is the NBR so pessimistic? This may be attributable to meagre current Conservative polling and Colin Craig's crossbench neutrality threats should he and other Conservatives be elected, whether through overcoming MMP's five percent threshold or finally securing a bolthole constituency. Should this situation change, it will be immediately covered.
Unsurprisingly, the relative 'victor' of this internal rivalry for funds and support is Family First, or so it appears. For an organisation that was deprived of its charitable status by the Charities Registration Board in 2013, Family First still seems to be quite financially healthy. Although it didn't hold one of its "Forum on the Family" Christian Right networking sessions in 2013, Family First has thus far been able to weather what would otherwise be a devastating blow to mainstream charities. During the current recession, legitimate charities have had to struggle for maintenance and operational funding from government and donors, enough management committee members, existing service delivery scope, volunteer and staffing losses and other recession-bourne weakenesses. During the last year, however, Family First has been able to release two "research reports" (unless they were commissioned well beforehand, which is admittedly one possibility) and is now holding a new Forum on the Family at the LIFE Convention Centre near Auckland Airport on July 4,2014. However, it only lists two donors- Steve Taylor's "24-7" counselling service and Pharmabrokers medical supplies. There appears to be no sign of the US Christian Right-backed "World Congress of Families," which would no doubt prompt logical conclusions about the extent of Family First's operational independence from the aggressive and extremist US Christian Right when it came to funding, as well as propaganda, strategies and tactics.
Which is all very well, but it raises an interesting question about Family First's current direction. When Louisa Wall introduced SOP 432 into Parliament, it seemed as if transgender rights was to be their next major target, until it inexplicably called off their campaign. There have been no subsidiary websites, no Christian Right "research reports" from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom or Australia, no pro forma documents against SOP 432 and only weak ruminations about 'bathroom bills', sourced from the US Family Research Council, REAL Women of Canada and the Pacific Justice Institute. There hasn't been an organised 'write-in' anti-432 submission campaign, either. This appears to be far weaker than their opposition to marriage equality. Over a week after the closure of submissions to the Government Administration select committee over SOP 432, Family First finally republished an article from conservative Catholic opponent of transgender rights and gender reassignment surgery Robert McHugh on its webpage.
Several things can be noted about McHugh's piece. One is that it was published in the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal, not a peer reviewed medical journal with the right of reply. The second is that McHugh is, as mentioned, a conservative Catholic and acted as 'consultant' to John Paul II's Vatican when it announced that it opposed reassignment surgery and mainstream medical and scientific evidence-based research about gender dysphoria in 2003.
The third is that as someone in his eighties, he seems to be out of touch with mainstream professional practise and evidence-based research about gender identity and dysphoria. For example, the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, American Psychiatric Association and American Public Health Association do not deny the reality of gender dysphoria as a medical condition, reassignment surgery and hormone treatment as modalities to deal with it and also uphold the neccessity of antidiscrimination law inclusion for transgendered people. Furthermore, as noted beforehand, Family First's Bob McCoskrie has no qualifications in fields like endocrinology, genetics or other medical fields that would qualify him personally to provide credible professional opinion on this matter. McHugh also advocates "reparative therapy", opposed by most mainstream mental health and medical associations in the United States and elsewhere, is a confirmed opponent of abortion rights and stem cell research and has helped to defend Catholic priests against clergy pedophilia charges. In an incisive TransAdvocate piece, Mari Brighe has also strongly criticised the accuracy and cherry picking selectivity of McHugh's approach to mainstream medical and psychiatric approaches to transgender concerns.
Brighe notes that there may be multiple biological bases for gender dysphoria, according to new findings from neurology and other evidence-based research results. These include androgen receptor genes, differences in cerebral grey matter between pre-transitional transwomen and cis men, sexual dimorphism (divergence) in cerebral intermediate nucleii between pre-transitional transwomen and cis men and cis women alike. Verbal fluency results in administered survey questionnaires also show that pre-transitional, transitioning and post-operative transwomen's results match those of cis women, rather than cis men. Finally, there are differences between monozygotic and dizygotic twins in terms of the prevalence of gender dysphoria, suggesting some possible genetic precursor to gender dysphoria. Brighe also cites psychiatric research that indicates that transitioning eases stress and anxiety and lowers levels of blood cortisol hormones in transwomen's bodies. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey is ignored altogether, and the administration of hormonal treatment to transgender children is misrepresented. It only begins after the onset of adolescence.
In addition to the above skulduggery, Family First has also stated that it will also produce a Value Your Vote leaflet/online reference paper at some point.
So, what is going on instead? It seems that Family First has finally made the (inevitable) decision to refocus its energies on a 'winnable' political debate, that over euthanasia law reform. It commissioned conservative Christian Otago University law professor Rex Ahdar to author an anti-euthanasia 'research report,' Killing Me Softly, released in May 2014. At its Forum, one of the keynote presenters will be David Richmond, associated with an Australian anti-euthanasia medical group, HOPE. On its news website, it is also reprinting material from Canada's Euthanasia Prevention Coalition and its director Alex Schadenberg.
The implications seem obvious. Finally, the New Zealand Christian Right has acknowledged to itself that any further opposition to marriage equality, transgender rights or antibullying reform seems pointless and is concentrating its attention on Maryan Street's postponed End of Life Choices Bill and the wider debates over euthanasia law reform. Given that mainstream organisations such as the New Zealand Medical Association and most other medical practitioners groups oppose reform, they may be able to claim 'success' on the front, riding on the coattails of 'respectable', mainstream opponents.
Or have they? Only time will tell.
Recommended: "Craig to reveal which electorate he'll stand for- at an event in the East Coast Bays electorate" National Business Review: 22.06.2014: http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/craig-reveal-electorate-hell-stand-event-east-coast-bays-electorate-ck-158077 TS Roadmap: Paul McHugh: http://www.tsroadmap.com/info/paul-mchugh.html Paul McHugh: Transsexualism: http://www.tsroadmap.com/info/paul-mchugh-transsexual.html “Catholic beliefs about the cures and causes of transsexuality” Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance: http://www.religioustolerance.org/transsexu15.htm "Transgenderism, Transsexuality and Gender Identity: Resolutions of Relevant Professional Associations" Ontario Consultants for Religious Tolerance: http://www.religioustolerance.org/transsexu25.htm “Vatican says sex change does not affect a person’s identity”:http://ai.eecs.umich.edu/people/conway/TS/CatholicTSDecision.html Mari Brighe: "Clinging to a dangerous past: Dr Paul McHugh's selective reading of the transgender medical literature" TransAdvocate: 15.06.2014: http://www.transadvocate.com/clinging-to-a-dangerous-past-dr-paul-mchughs-selective-reading-of-transgender-medical-literature_n_13842.htm
Not Recommended: Family First: Forum on the Family (July 4, 2014): http://www.familyfirst.org.nz/forum "Transgender Surgery isn't the solution- former psychiatrist at John Hopkins Hospital" Family First: 16.06.2014: http://www.familyfirst.org.nz/2014/06/transgender-surgery-isnt-the-solution-former-psychiatrist-in-chief-at-john-hopkins-hospital/ Conservative Party: http://www.conservativeparty.org.nz Right to Life New Zealand: http://www.righttolife.org.nz| HOPE Australia: http://www.noeuthanasia.org.au Euthanasia Prevention Coalition: http://www.epcc.ca
Politics and religion commentator Craig Young - 27th June 2014