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NZ, where equality must mean equality

Wed 19 Sep 2012 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Sitting in Parliament's public gallery for the first reading of Louisa Wall's Marriage Equality bill, more formally the Marriage Amendment Bill, focussed my mind on what it's all about. If you haven't had the opportunity to look down on Parliament in action, I'll start by guiding you through it and taking you back to that night. Perhaps you'll come to understand the thoughts that emerged for me. Getting into Parliament is a very security-conscious and structured process. You're held in the outer glass foyer until just a few minutes before Parliament sits, then courteously invited in through the metal detectors. You surrender your phone, get your Gallery sticker, then its up the stairs and into another holding area. From there the quietly polite ushers come to take you to one of several entrances to the public seating area. The sightlines are not so hot. Because some of the MPs are under the public gallery you're never going to be able to see them all, just those opposite you. For me that was the Government side of the house, which suited me fine. I wanted to look as many enemies in the eye as I could, or to at least size them up in person. But what impressed itself mostly on my memory was not the speechifying on the floor of the House but the images and action around me in the public gallery itself. The gallery was packed with young glbt people and supporters. Hardly a person over 30 and barely half a dozen of us over, er, 45. I realised that the same could be said of that afternoon's march from Civic Square to Parliament. This was young glbti people making their presence felt and their needs known. It was extremely heartening to see our youth in action like this The only people in the gallery who weren't supporters of the bill were a group of middle-aged Asian Christian women with a couple of their young-ish children. What an odd bunch they were, members of the same group which had mounted an anti-equality vigil outside Parliament, hiding their faces behind their small, intolerant placards. They sat in stony-faced, stoic silence at first. But as MPs for and against the bill spoke they became more animated, raising their grim visages towards heaven and mouthing prayers or mantras when MPs lauded the bill, smiling tightly and even applauding a little as those against the bill explained their stances. Strangest of all, one of the women became angry and agitated when one of the hovering ushers had a quiet word with her regarding applauding. The speaker had reminded the gallery not to take part in the proceedings by applauding but there was inevitably a scattering of applause at times. The ushers would descend on the transgressors and wag a finger from time to time but the Christian woman would not take the hint. Harsh words were hissed and whispered and even the hunky policeman across the house began to watch with a wary eye. Counterpointing the surly piousness of the bill's gallery opponents there was joy and humanity amongst its supporters. The afternoon march through downtown Wellington had been joyous too, colourful, affirming and social. Sitting there in the public gallery I compared the supporters and opponents. It made me compare the afternoon's march with the ghastly Destiny Church Enough is Enough march of a few years back and crystallised in my mind what kind of country I, as a proud New Zealander, want to live in. It's not a grim, purse-lipped country where 'they' get to demean anyone 'they' choose because they need someone to denigrate so they feel better about themselves. It's a colourful, relaxed and inclusive country I want for us all and for future generations of New Zealanders of all beliefs, sexualities and outlooks. A country where all people are treated equally by our laws, where we can all thrive in the sunshine of truly equal opportunity and legal standing. A country where adoption of particular optional beliefs does not confer special treatment or powers at the expense of others. A country where equality in the eyes of the law truly means equality.    . Jay Bennie - 19th September 2012    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 19th September 2012 - 8:20am

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