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Title: Govt "weak-kneed bastards" says 'misinterpreted' Brownlee Credit: Chris Banks Features Thursday 10th June 2004 - 12:00pm1086825600 Article: 287 Rights
 
Gerry Brownlee National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee has broken his gay media silence, claiming he has been misinterpreted in his stance on civil unions. "The government has stopped leading," says National's deputy leader Gerry Brownlee. “They're reacting to their polls, and I will stand by my statement that I don't think the civil union bill will see the light of day this year or next year.” Something that Brownlee should be pleased about, surely? His relationship with the gay and lesbian communities has been rather patchy up until now, at least publicly. He refused recent interviews with GayNZ.com, his sole reason being that he didn't speak to the gay media. When Pansy Wong started her 'Pansy's Pansies' gay National supporters group last month, Brownlee was dismissive of it, suggesting that National didn't need and shouldn't want to be courting the gay vote. Gay voters were assured by both Wong and party leader Don Brash – a penciled-in supporter of civil unions – that they have nothing to fear from Brownlee. National is a broad-based party, they both said, and the civil union vote would be a conscience one for National MPs. Unlike the Christian-tinged United Future who have been barely able to control their hysteria over gay and lesbian relationships being recognized in law, the National Party would not be taking a block stance on the bill. Or would it? The text of a Brownlee speech, made at a recent National Party conference and reproduced on the party's website, seemed to suggest the opposite. National had fought and won a number of “important battles on many fronts”, read the speech text, and the Civil Union bill would soon join other pieces of Government legislation that were “all but dead in the water”, along with the “fart tax” and the “anti-smacking agenda”. So, it's surely time for Brownlee to front up. Where exactly does he stand on civil unions, and is he dragging the National Party along with him? He hasn't always been willing to talk, especially to gay media (although he's not homophobic, insists Don Brash, he has a good gay friend apparently). This time, though, Brownlee returned a gay media phone call. First things first – he's been misinterpreted. The text of his speech on the National Party website, he says, does not put what he says in context, and is actually missing some key sentences. He was merely saying that political pressure has seen the demise of several government bills, including civil unions. He was attacking the government for its lack of integrity in pursuing its stated social agenda, not putting forth his own. “When it comes to civil unions, the government are in a position where they simply won't lead,” he says. “They're the weak-kneed bastards who said we're going to go out there and pass civil unions and now it's quietly off the agenda. Because they're frightened of taking it to the public.” And is Brownlee frightened of taking his anti-civil union bill message to his public? “It's very hard to be put on the spot and be asked how do you feel about the civil union bill, because it doesn't exist. As far as we know it hasn't even been drafted,” he claims. “My personal position is I will wait and see what the bill looks like and have a read of it. I generally vote fairly conservatively, but there are some civil rights issues around the whole aspect of same-sex relationships that I think should rightly be dealt with, but I just want to see what this bill actually does. I'm not at this stage buying into it being a huge attack on the institution of marriage.” Brownlee names next-of-kin status as one of these issues, but don't get too excited about this seemingly moderate stance. “I've got to say I don't want to see same-sex unions given the same status as marriage. My strong view is that marriage is a commitment between a man and a woman, end of story.” It's not the first time we've heard that one. But why? Is there a religious basis to his argument? “I've got religious beliefs, but I don't wander round the place waving those in people's faces, they are personal. There are many people who are gay who have Christian beliefs.” That's a bit of a long bow to draw, Gerry. When's the last time you saw a gay Christian group trying to **ban** recognition of gay and lesbian relationships? “To not put too fine a point on it, when it comes to the interests of children, there's also a biological aspect to it…I think a lot of the protections and strengths that go around marriage have changed considerably over the centuries, but in essence its always been to create an environment that protects children. It recognizes that by and large the best place for children to come from is a marriage between a man and a woman.” So what about same-sex couples that have children? What happens to them? “They have obviously got parental obligations and I don't want to see those in any way diminished. But if you're talking about same sex couples being able to adopt, to have a children via surrogacy, those are separate issues that need to be dealt with.” But how exactly should Brownlee be dealt with? And how does the government feel about being labeled a bunch of “weak-kneed bastards”? Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope, responsible for the Civil Union bill's introduction, would not be drawn on the name-calling, but was keen to set the record straight on his government's intentions. "Gerry Brownlee is incorrect, as he often is," he says. "Labour is committed to this important piece of human rights legislation. The Government intends to introduce this legislation this month and it's first reading date is likely to be around June 24. "The legislation will be a conscience vote, and we are aware that some of Gerry's National Party colleagues have indicated their willingness to support it.” NB: Gerry Brownlee's speech at the National Party regional conferences, which he claims is missing some key sentences, is yet to be corrected on the party's website. You can read what he said here: http://www.national.org.nz/speech_article.aspx?ArticleID=2019 Chris Banks - 10th June 2004    
 
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