|The NZ AIDS Foundation is ending the silence on human rights, and highlighting the disturbing levels of anti-gay hatred not seen since homosexual law reform in 1985. It's ended the crippling silence on HIV/AIDS, and now they're hoping to do the same with human rights – the NZ AIDS Foundation is speaking out at the culture of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice being stirred up by some opponents of the Civil Union Bill. Human rights are under threat, they say, and at stake is our country's reputation as a fair and inclusive society. Executive director Rachael Le Mesurier says she is deeply concerned about the move of the Civil Union debate away from the principles of human rights and legal equality for same-sex and defactio relationships into a debate about homosexual behaviour.
"The opponents of this Bill, particularly some right-wing fundamentalist churches, seem to have, once again, fixated on the morality of homosexuality,” she says. “Their prejudices and discomfort around gay sex are capturing what should be a debate about human rights, justice and inclusivity." In particular, two recent breathtaking press releases from the Campaign Against Civil Unions have highlighted this return to 1985-style homosexual law reform-era hatefulness. The first attacked Newstalk ZB host Kerre Woodham for suggesting that certain opponents of civil unions have an "unhealthy prurient fascination with sodomy". The Campaign responded: “This is perverse reasoning. It is like accusing residents living near a sewage treatment plant who complain of the stench resulting from the deliberate release of toxic sewage into waterways and the environment, of having a prurient fascination in and being obsessed with sewage each time they raise complaints or dare to express an opinion on the effects of the disease-ridden filth." It went on to say that such accusations "could legitimately be described as 'downright ugly,' 'intolerant' and based on 'prejudice' and bigotry, particularly coming from those who try and deny they are responsible for the stench, disease and pollution. Furthermore they may well emanate from those with “contorted political reasons” for normalising filth and squalor.” The second made reference to a feature article in the last issue of Express which profiled MP Chris Carter and his partner of 31 years, Peter Kaiser. They met when Peter was 17 and Chris was 21, which the Campaign have used to suggest that “'Gay' sex (sodomy) with school boys by adults will be sanctioned by the Civil Union Bill if it is passed into law on Thursday”. This release, published on news website Scoop, was apparently considered so odious it has since been removed by the webmaster. The AIDS Foundation says this approach reveals a very real attempt by some lobby groups to reverse the progress that has been made over the last 18 years towards equal legal rights for gays and lesbians in New Zealand. "Since the passing of the Human Rights Act 1993, gays and lesbians have felt that they were welcome equals in New Zealand society. Over the last few days, however, that feeling of inclusion has been replaced by increased anxiety and fear that New Zealand could again, become an unsafe place to come out,” says Rachael LeMesurier. “We have very serious concerns at the impact this is having on the health and well-being of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, takataapui and fa'afafine people, and their families, in our communities. Many of whom are also practising Christians." In 1993, debate surrounding the Human Rights Act was debated reasonably and was clearly seen by most as not being primarily about sex or morality, but about the need for people who are members of a minority group to be treated equitably at law on such issues as the provision of employment, accommodation and the provision of goods and services. It was recognised that provision of these protections and dignities did not reduce the protection and dignity of anyone else. "Unfortunately, although the Civil Unions Bill is equally about these issues, as they apply to same sex and defacto heterosexual couples, the debate is now being reduced by some to an emotional level not seen since the days of Homosexual Law Reform in the mid 1980s,” says LeMesurier. Churches are moving into the political arena to stop the bill. The Vision Network released a letter with 21 church leader signatories urging MPs to stop the bill. This network made GayNZ.com's top ten list of crazy submissions to the select committee with their unforgettable quote “God does not hate queers”. Plainly, this is true – God does not hate queers...but they do. Catholic bishops sent out a pastoral letter last weekend asking parishioners to take note of who voted for the Civil Union Bill, implicitly suggesting that voters should punish them at the next election. By contrast, the silence from the liberal wing of the Anglican Church has been deafening. The AIDS Foundation feels it has to make this strong statement now, in the face of the ever-increasing shrillness of the fundamentalist opposition. LeMesurier says the attacks witnessed in the last few days are from a vocal minority of individuals. "It is extraordinary that opponents of this Bill should focus on issues of sex and morality and make wild claims about homosexual behaviour being responsible for 'stench, disease and pollution' as excuses for their stance,” she says. “If they were genuinely concerned for the health of society, they would support Civil Unions for same sex couples. Currently, the lack of legal recognition and community support for gay and lesbian relationships works against health, stability and fidelity within those relationships." Chris Banks - 8th December 2004