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United we wed, divided we don't?

Mon 19 Mar 2012 In: Features

Uniting the gay and lesbian community to advance marriage equality Tony and Nic Marriage equality is coming. The question is not if, but when. But how we get there is important too. Nic and I met in 2000. I was 19, he was 22. We've been inseparable ever since. When we're apart for more than a day it feels like I'm missing a part of me. We got "married" (had a Civil Union) in 2008 in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens with around 100 family and friends. It was our perfect day. Many of our guests spoke of going to a wedding, and what’s wrong with that? And yes, we do refer to each other as husband! I'm one of those who prefers Civil Unions over marriage. It is modern and inclusive from its very beginning. Compared to most countries, where Civil Unions have been designed as a separate institution for same-sex couples, New Zealand chartered a different course. We created a relationship recognition that was open to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples, changed the prescribed "I take you" language to be more flexible and less possessive – and removed virtually all discrimination in New Zealand law between de facto and married/civil unionised couples! But I'll also be part of the campaign for marriage equality. Why? Because there is no rational argument or logical reason to deny same-sex couples the choice. If two people love each other and want to make a commitment to each other then they should be able to do so. To describe Civil Unions as a second-class institution is hurtful for some of us who are in a Civil Union. It's just not necessary either. It's not Civil Unions themselves, and it’s not the different rights attached to marriage and to civil unions, but the lack of a choice, that creates a second-class form of citizenry for gay and lesbian people. This is where the campaign for marriage equality must focus. We must not divide our community by attacking Civil Unions as an inferior form of relationship status. Over 4000 people have had Civil Unions since 2004, including over 800 opposite-sex couples. Back in the early 2000s it was the gay and lesbian community feedback against marriage that helped mould the Civil Union concept. There was a small minority who disagreed and wanted to advance marriage equality, but in the interests of a united community against a fierce biblical literalist opposition, those people coalesced behind Civil Unions. The drive for equality is now taking a slightly different direction, and unity is just as important to victory. We can advance marriage equality without denigrating Civil Unions because that would be an approach that may divide the gay and lesbian community, making it more difficult to achieve marriage equality. Civil Unions aren't the problem. We should instead focus on the injustice that means that same-sex couples are denied the choice that opposite-sex couples have. We are denied equality. Those of us who prefer Civil Unions will unite behind marriage equality, but we don’t want to see our choice of relationship recognition attacked as inferior. Martin Luther King Jr said that "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice". He was right. But justice does not come without a fight. I will be helping in that fight - but I won't be doing so by attacking those who choose Civil Unions as their preferred way to have their relationship recognised. I will be doing so based on the fundamental belief that all people should have the same rights and responsibilities - and that includes the right to get married to the person they love and want to spend their life with. Tony Milne helped co-ordinate the campaign for Civil Unions when working for Tim Barnett MP. Tony Milne - 19th March 2012

Credit: Tony Milne

First published: Monday, 19th March 2012 - 12:40pm

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