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Power's CU vote "a tragedy and a political crime"

Fri 14 Oct 2011 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback

Charles Chauvel speaking at last night's GABA political Forum Departing National MP and Minister of Justice Simon Power's revelation this week that he ignored his conscience and voted against Civil Unions to appease his rural electorate has been labelled “a tragedy” and “a political crime.” When the Civil Unions bill reached its final vote in December 2004 Power, then in opposition, voted against allowing legal unions for same sex couples, a vote he earlier this week said he would change if he had the chance. Rising gay Labour MP Charles Chauvel says “the greatest crime a politician can commit is to say 'My conscience says one thing but my electors say another'” and vote against your conscience. As an MP your duty is to lead, to have the arguments and in the end to follow your conscience. And frankly life is too short not to.” “If you want to express regret about not having moved in a liberal way," says Chauvel, "and if you say that you have come to the end of your Parliamentary career and you have different views the great tragedy that you face is that you never acted on them no matter how liberal or conservative your constituency was.” Chauvel, who is a frontrunner for the Justice portfolio in any future Labour-led government, is also critical of Power's legislative agenda during his term as justice minister. “He's a parliamentarian and a politician whom it is very difficult not to like but he is by no means a great performer. He had no particular philosophy animating his legislative programme... it is a magpie-like programme and if he had been a great liberal we would have seen a different voting record and a far more coherent approach to reform." Asked if, in retrospect, New Zealand gay activists made a mistake in deciding to aim for Civil Unions when many countries are now looking quite seriously at same-sex marriage, Chauvel – who was involved in the CU campaign – is pragmatic. “A judgement was made about what was possible at the time...  if we had gone for marriage the numbers by which Civil Unions just squeaked through probably indicates that we would have suffered a defeat.” Opening marriage to same sex couples is not far off, according to Chauvel. “There are probably ten or eleven jurisdictions around the world that have made the transition from nothing to Civil Unions and then to marriage. It's only the North American jurisdictions that have made the leap straight to marriage. So I am not unhopeful.” He says momentum is building in New Zealand as a result of New York legislating for same sex marriage and with all  state Labour conferences in Australia now supporting marriage. “If you talk to almost anyone under thirty and you ask if should people of the same sex be able to marry they look at you as though you are asking a bizarre question. 'Of course!' is the answer. And that generational shift will tell very quickly in our politics.” Chauvel believes New Zealand currently has a Parliament that is more conservative than the people and feels that is unusual for New Zealand. “It's because we have a large number of National MPs but I don't think that on-going conservatism will last. Within five or six years it would surprise me greatly if we didn't have a successful marriage statute in place.”    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Friday, 14th October 2011 - 12:57pm

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