Article Title:Quiet confidence as CU bill nears first reading
Author or Credit:Chris Banks
Published on:17th May 2004 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:248
Text:The campaign both for and against civil unions is gathering pace in the lead-up to the bill's first reading in Parliament. Public meetings convened by the Civil Unions Campaign in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch attracted around 160 people, says MP Tim Barnett, with attendees expressing a definite desire to fight against the opposition. Visible opposition to the bill has been increasing in recent weeks, with a lot of criticism reciting the “it's gay marriage in all but name” mantra. If this is evidence that the opposition is going to fight this bill as if it were gay marriage, that old chestnut remains – are we accepting second best by going for civil unions? “If we were doing that, the opposition would be much greater than it is now,” says Barnett. “The reason you're seeing this kind of line is because the opposition are flailing around desperately trying to find an argument, attacking the bill for what it isn't, and it isn't marriage.” It would seem that those who attended the public meetings were not too concerned about this issue anyhow. “There was no real argument over whether we should be going for marriage over civil unions, most people were accepting of our broader approach to the issue. There is no real evidence that the gay community actually wants marriage, civil unions are a 21st century model for relationships that are open to all couples.” A One News Colmar Brunton poll on civil unions released at the weekend showed 46% of the public in favour of the bill, a result which Barnett finds positive. “Given that the Government's explanation of the bill hasn't even started yet, I'm very happy with the poll results, it reflects the feedback we've had. It's interesting to look at the demographic breakdown to see how different the results are.” So we can expect the Government to make the public aware of the issues that affect same-sex couples and that there is a real need for this legislation? “This is a Government bill, albeit a Government bill with a free vote, which means that the Government will explain how it is going to work as it does with every other bill it introduces.” Some opposition to the bill so far has led the public to believe the legislation is unnecessary, as same-sex couples already have access to the rights which a civil union would confer. The fundamentalist Christian-tinged United Future wants to write the entire concept off as “silliness” (and for gay and lesbian taxpayers to foot the bill for their advertisements labelling it so). “This shows the ignorance of what existing legislation says,” Barnett explains. “There are some laws which actually specifically exclude same-sex couples. What's available now is very limited. The opposition to the bill so far is not surprising at all, all of the parties involved are opposing the bill on the basis of not having seen it.” Disgruntled letter writers and talk radio callers also seem keen to blame Barnett for bringing down civilisation, saying that he is behind the whole thing, when in actual fact it is a Government bill, administered by Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope (something that National leader Don Brash was even unaware of until informed him). “I don't mind accepting responsibility for what is a good piece of legislation,” says Barnett, “but it's a joint effort.” The first reading of the civil union bill still has no firm date, however. It was to be this month, but June is now being touted as a possibility. Barnett says there is “a bit of debate” about when to introduce it, but this is not because of the political climate surrounding this specific issue. “We want to introduce it at the right time, and there are other things around at the moment.” Chris Banks - 17th May 2004    
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