Article Title:The pros and cons of Civil Unions
Category:Features
Author or Credit:RadioNZ/GayNZ.com
Published on:12th March 2004 - 12:00 pm
Published by:GayNZ.com
Story ID:165
Text:A National Radio documentary broadcast on Sunday 7 March took a comprehensive look at progress towards equitable Civil Unions legislation. This transcript, slightly edited by GayNZ.com, includes comment supporting the Bill from Tim Barnett, Margaret Mayman, Nigel Christie and others, plus opposing views from Maxim, Dail Jones and even George W Bush. “INSIGHT” PRESENTER MARK TORLEY: The Government is planning to introduce a Bill to Parliament to allow couples like those who took part in a commitment ceremony for gay and lesbian couples at the Big Gay Out event in Auckland last month, as well as heterosexual couples who don't want to marry, to legally register their partnerships. Another Bill will accompany it. This will remove any discrimination against these relationships for more than 100 existing laws. The passage of the civil union legislation will depend on MPs' individual consciences. They'll be given a free vote on this issue rather than having to vote along party lines. Since it rekindles the debate about attitudes towards homosexuality and the nature of marriage it's likely to be a controversial social issue and the subject of intense lobbying. COMMENTS FROM ‘PEOPLE IN THE STREET': “This is about recognising the beginnings and the enduring nature of relationships and I think society should support that.” “Really we're talking about same-sex marriage because the same privileges will go to them as has gone to marriage. So it's just a linguistic thing.” “As a feminist and a lesbian I think the most important thing for me is to have a right to exist in full citizenship as an independent woman.” “It's like sun rising in the east and setting in the west. Marriage is something a man and a woman do.” TORLEY: Bruce Logan is a Director of the conservative lobby group and think tank the Maxim Institute. BRUCE LOGAN: Back in the '80s when homosexuality was being decriminalised the call was for the state to get out of the bedroom. Now the call is for the state to get back into the bedroom which I find remarkable. TORLEY: It's almost 20 years since male homosexuality was decriminalised in one of the most controversial reforms in New Zealand's Parliamentary history. The Homosexual Law Reform Act came into force in August 1986 after 2 years of petitions, protests and heated debate. MALE VOICE 1: I represent the people that are trying to live a very, very good life in this country. WOMAN: Sir Keith do you represent the 57% of New Zealanders who think that there should be homosexual law reform in our country. MALE: Mrs [Fran] Wilde, if you were in my position you would knock that petition for a six. MALE 2: Unless the policemen sort of come hiding in our bedrooms there is no way they're going to be able to arrest us for indecent acts or for sodomy but the statutes still stand. Only 50 years ago gay people were being shut up in concentration camps and gassed. MALE 3: I regard homosexuality personally as a perversion. As a nation we base our laws and statutes on The Bible and The Bible speaks out very strongly about this. In fact if we want to go back to the Old Testament it carries a death penalty. TORLEY: Further efforts were made to remove discrimination on the basis of age, sexual orientation and marital status in the Bill of Rights and Human Rights laws passed during the 1990s. However Government legislation and activities were broadly exempt from these provisions until the Human Rights Law was amended in 2001. That year same sex and couples in de facto marriages were given the same property rights as married couples by an amendment to the Property Relationships Act. The Government is arguing civil unions will help meet its human rights obligations. GAY LABOUR MP TIM BARNETT: I think we were ready probably when property relationships went through... which did start to recognise that you could have a relationship model in society that was essentially de facto and some people would be of different sexes and some people would be the same sex. So we started the debate then and it's been held in suspension while the human rights changes went through, while other conscience matters have been around. So I think now Parliament is ready to deal with this one. TORLEY: But there was also internal pressure to change the law. The Labour Party's gay and lesbian wing Rainbow Labour began looking at the issue in the late 1990s and came out in favour of civil unions and they became part of the Labour Party's policy platform at the last election. Labour MP Russell Fairbrother presented a private member's Bill. The issue was taken up by the Government which has developed its own legislation. The Minister of St Andrews Church on The Terrace in Wellington is Margaret Mayman who is also a lesbian. She says gay and lesbian couples have faced difficulties because their relationships haven't been recognised by law. MARGARET MAYMAN: There are numerous aspects of the current legislation that give particular benefits to married people. Gay and lesbian people have to go and draw up legal documents to have those same kind of protections and I think particularly now I heard some really tragic stories about people who have been excluded from the care and the dying process of their partners by the families of origin of their partners and that's just, just a devastating experience for a number of gay and lesbian people and we want to make sure that the people who they have loved are able to sort of be there at the end. TORLEY: But not everyone in the gay and lesbian community is in favour of civil unions. Jill Levestra was involved in a group called Lesbians Who Don't Want a Bar Of It, when there were calls from some within the gay and lesbian community for marriage 8 years ago. She does not believe relationships should be defined by the state. JILL LEVESTRA: Lesbians aren't disabled heterosexuals. Thinking it's not fair that we can't married is a bit like thinking it's not fair that we don't get prostate cancer. Somebody made some noise or a few people make some noise based on a funny idea of what's fair and a whole lot of other people have taken a simple response to that which is oh gosh we'd better make it the same and we are not the same. The real story behind the impetus for human rights is the right to be different. TORLEY: In the United States same sex marriage is a huge issue. More than 3,500 same sex couples have wed since same sex marriage licences began being issued in San Francisco last month in defiance of a state law defining marriage as a union of man and woman. And in defiance of the views of President George Bush who responded to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ordering the state to recognise marriages between homosexuals. GEORGE W. BUSH: If we are to prevent the meaning of marriage from being changed forever our nation must enact a constitutional amendment to protect marriage in America. TORLEY: In New Zealand the courts have behaved differently. In 1997 the Court of Appeal handed down a landmark decision on the issue of gay and lesbian marriages in a case known as Quilter verses the Attorney General. Three lesbian couples were seeking to marry and argued not allowing them to do so was discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. They also claimed the Marriage Act which dates back to the mid 1950s did not specify that marriage was confined to heterosexual couples. The judges decided that the law restricted marriage to a union between men and women and said it was up to Parliament to decide whether to recognise same sex relationships. The Government argues its new Bill will keep marriages and civil unions separate. Labour MP Tim Barnett does not think it throws up the same issues as in the United States because it's being driven by Parliament rather than the courts. BARNETT: I think the difficulty with a court led reform is that the people and politicians are going to feel shut out of that and they're going to feel as though they've had something imposed on them. So by raising it at a political level, putting it before political process out for Select Committee submissions and so on it's actually going to go through a much more rounded and public debate. So that rather than being able to interview judges, you wouldn't be going to a judge to talk about this if they were about to consider a, a case challenging our marriage laws. You can talk to politicians and others about this issue and to me that's much more healthy and a much better way to actually deal with it. TORLEY: But others don't see it that way. The New Zealand First MP Dail Jones says the Government is effectively legislating for gay and lesbian marriage. DAIL JONES: It's a rose by any other name isn't it. It's a civil union in the nature of a marriage, that's how the social security legislation has always worked, something which is in the nature of something else and effectively it will have for all the trappings of a marriage as we know it otherwise why bother with it. TORLEY: Tim Barnett rejects the idea that civil unions will undermine the institution of marriage. BARNETT: I would have thought a much greater offence to most people in New Zealand is the idea that people in a loving long-term relationship are going to be rejected by the state effectively from having any opportunity to have their relationship recognised. LOGAN: To appeal to the state, to say whether a homosexual relationship should be given the same status as marriage is to really change the nature of human relationships, the nature of cultural order and even the nature of inter-generational continuity. It's not just about the rights and privileges of homosexuals. TORLEY: Bruce Logan from the Maxim Institute is dismissing the Government's efforts to promote civil unions as separate from marriage as propaganda. LOGAN: When you have a law that says that marriage can be between any two people that is going to change people's perceptions and further erode their confidence in marriage. Marriage is vulnerable and it is a bit fragile. It needs to be supported by social morays and when it's not supported by social morays it will go into decline. Realistically men will not pay for sex if they can get it for free and to some extent marriage is a bit of a trade off for sex in a culture that takes marriage seriously. Now that's not the whole answer but that's very much very important. Now when you, the sexual drive is very, very strong. When you don't have an accepted regulatory process going on in culture to shake that then you will get, you will get a culture that will tend to see marriage more and more unimportant and less significant and so same sex marriage is just one of the things that will further that process. TORLEY: But there are concerns from some who see the Maxim Institute as representing the views of the Christian right. Margaret Mayman of St Andrew's on The Terrace. MAYMAN: There isn't really a recognition of homosexual orientation in The Bible. The condemnations of homosexuality which I think do underlie people like, concerns of people like the Maxim Institute, they are really addressing homosexual behaviour amongst what they presume to be heterosexual people. They didn't understand that there was such a thing as sort of biological homosexual orientation. And so The Bible doesn't address it. It does have instances of deeply committed friendships between same sex couples, particularly David and Jonathan would be an example. So there has been a recognition of, of that kind of depth of emotional attachment between people of the same sex in The Bible. TORLEY: Bruce Logan says he doesn't find gay relationship any more objectionable than adulterous ones. LOGAN: Homosexuals who want to live together that is their business and they're welcome to do that, that's not my concern. My concern is when we get a, a movement which wants to determine and say that same-sex relationships are sexually, functionally and culturally equivalent to heterosexual relationships. Because they are plainly not equivalent. TORLEY: But some gay and lesbian people argue civil unions amount to a lesser status than marriage and that isn't good enough. Nigel Christie is from the lobby group Legal Equality for Gay and Lesbian People or LeGaLE. Mr Christie does not believe the recognition of gay and lesbian marriages would violate the sanctity of marriage. NIGEL CHRISTIE: We have the sanctity of marriage and then we have, you know, Britney Spears entering into a marriage which is pre-planned to be annulled the next morning. We have wife batterers who are permitted to marry. We have child abusers who are permitted to marry. We have murderers who are permitted to marry. We have people with overseas citizenship who are permitted to marry in New Zealand. None of those things are deemed to upset the sanctity of marriage. But somehow for same-sex couples to marry would somehow sully the sanctity of marriage. TORLEY: Nigel Christie says civil unions are not the equal of marriage. CHRISTIE: There won't be inequality of status. For example, marriage will still retain its current status. Civil unions will be another status, an additional status that's new to us. A same-sex couple cannot choose not to marry if civil unions are offered instead of marriage for same-sex couples whereas a different-sex couple will be able to choose whether to marry or enter into a civil union. TORLEY: Until she was forced to resign last month from all her portfolios over an Immigration scandal Lianne Dalziel was the Associate Minister of Justice in charge of the Civil Union Bill. She does not not think there is the political will to introduce same sex marriages. LIANNE DALZIEL: I don't believe that in the New Zealand Parliament there is a desire to extend the Marriage Act to include same sex couples. The Marriage Act at the moment covers a man marrying a woman, a woman marrying a man and that is it and that's the way it will remain. TORLEY: Labour MP Tim Barnett says it may be something to look at further down the track. BARNETT: [When]civil union is through, [let's] see how it works out, see in 10 years time if people regard civil unions and if it is emerging and very much a secondary status and people aspire for more then a new political debate starts but this isn't a step to a final stage in my agenda to something which to me delivers one of my commitments... which is to get human rights for all. TORLEY: Nigel Christie of LeGaLE acted as junior counsel for the lesbian couples involved in the Quilter case. He warns the civil union law will still mean the Government is exposed to litigation. CHRISTIE: There are complaints with the Human Rights Commission currently around the marriage issue. That's prior to civil union coming into effect or coming into being. There's nothing to suggest that if a Civil Union Bill comes into existence that the same complaint couldn't be filed, that the same-sex couples are still being discriminated against on the basis of being denied access to marriage. TORLEY: Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples could lose their benefits or face cuts under changes in the Bill expected to accompany the proposed civil union legislation. The Government has acknowledged it could save millions of dollars in benefits. Under Section 63 of the Social Security Act heterosexual couples who authorities determine to be living in a relationship in the nature of a marriage receive a lower benefit or superannuation payment than those who are single. For example a single person who is 25 years or over can collect an unemployment or sickness benefit worth $161 in the hand while someone who is deemed to be either married or in a de facto marriage receives about $27 less. Currently the law is blind to gay or lesbian people living as a couple. They are both entitled to claim individual benefits but the Government will close this loophole. The Green MP Sue Bradford says gay and lesbian couples will now be treated for the purposes of the welfare system as being in a relationship in the nature of a marriage. SUE BRADFORD: If a person who is on the benefit does not inform the department that they're in the relationship in a nature of marriage when they are they can actually be taken to court for benefit fraud. And there's a whole intense state apparatus in existence which spends its life investigating the state of people's sex lives and the state of their relationships to see whether or not they're entitled to a benefit, how much in benefit they're entitled to, whether their boyfriend or girlfriend is sleeping with them how many nights a week. Are they financially interdependent or not? Are they emotionally interdependent or not? That will suddenly be applied not only to straight couples but would also be applied to gay and lesbian couples in future. So even though a couple may not intend to form a civil union, may not even be clear between themselves about the relationship... this is going to have a very intrusive impact that gay and lesbian couples have not had to suffer from before. TORLEY: The new rules will not come into force for 2 years in cases where a couple decides not to register their partnership. The Social Development Minister Steve Maharey says he does not know how many couples will be affected by the changes but he expects it will involve a sizable number. He says it's only fair for same-sex couples to have the same rights and obligations as those who are married or in a heterosexual de facto marriage. STEVE MAHAREY: You can't have it both ways. It's like saying: well married couples won't be recognised for what their marriage is or de facto couples won't be recognised. We can't have one law for people whose sexual orientation means they live in a same-sex relationship and another one for people who are in heterosexual relationships. As far as the law is concerned it's a relationship and it has to be recognised as such for benefit and superannuation purposes. It would unfair to do it any other way. TORLEY: Mr Maharey says he's confident Work   
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