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For and against: The Ak University Marriage Equality debate

Tue 2 Oct 2012 In: Politics and Religion View at Wayback View at NDHA

Debate team leaders Louisa Wall and Colin Craig Almost five hundred energetic supporters and opponents of Louisa Wall's Marriage Equality bill packed a large lecture hall at Auckland University Library last evening, with an overflow crowd watching in a nearby lecture room via video link, as two diametrically opposed teams debated the motion that 'This house supports the legalisation of same-sex marriage.' The crowd, mostly student supporters of the bill currently before Parliament but with a fair number of older more conservative opponents, saw a lively and passionate debate between a team arguing for the bill, led by lesbian MP Louisa Wall, and an anti- team led by Conservative Party boss and outspoken Christian bill opponent Colin Craig. Craig was supported by theologian Dr Matthew Flannagan and Chaplain of Auckland University, AUT and MIT Joe Moeono-Kolio. On Wall's team were LegaliseLove co-chair Bonnie Hartfield and Auckland University Students' Association Queer Rights Officer Levi Joule. Flannagan, Moeono-Kolio and Craig Speaking against the bill Craig took the position that denying same sex couples the right to marry would be "differentiation" rather than "discrimination." He likened being gay and straight to playing rugby and soccer: "Both are games played by two teams on a green field with the team scoring the most points winning... do we call these two games the same? No." He said it is intelligent to differentiate and drew heavily on the argument that marriage is a traditional union between a man and a woman and this tradition must not be abandoned. Moeono-Kolio said that it is already accepted that "not all persons can get married" and gave as examples priests, siblings and those already married. And he cited overseas examples of gay people who have not supported proposed same-sex marriage legislation and highlighted gay Attorney General and fellow-Catholic Chris Finlayson's vote against the NZ bill in its first reading. He said is it is not homophobic to disagree with the bill. "Is Chris Finlayson homophobic?" he asked, seemingly rhetorically. Marriage is about more than two people in love, he said. "Marriage is the union of a man and a woman" for the purposes of procreation." Flannagan argued that glbti people should be satisfied with the availability of Civil Unions. He said such unions were substantially the same as marriage. "Giving something a different name doesn't change its substance," he said. More controversially, he said current marriage law lists fifteen categories of people who cannot marry each other. He said that the bill, which seeks to add same-sex couples to those who can legally marry, is itself inherently discriminatory as it does not also allow for anyone from those other categories, which include kinship and polyamorous marriages. "Are we going to rectify marriage to include single mothers?" he asked to derisory laughter from many in the audience. Joule, Hartfield and Wall Speaking in support of her bill Wall stated that human rights are the birthright of all New Zealanders and reminded the audience that in New Zealand there is a clear separation between church and state. "In modern democratic New Zealand we shouldn't discriminate against anybody," she said. She refuted Flannagan's claim that if passed her bill would force ministers and priests to marry same-sex couples against their wishes or faith. She said opposition to the bill was based on  "fear and hatred." Hartfield stated up front that glbti people respect marriage. "That's why we want to be part of it," she said, adding to resounding applause and cheers that Civil Unions could never be as good as marriage. "How is the love of two people any less valid because of their sexual orientation or gender?" she asked. Marriage, she said is "a social bond that reflects the life-long bond and connection between two individuals who love each other very much. It provides security for families and social recognition that can never, ever, ever, ever be achieved by Civil Unions."  "We're asking for the same rights and options" as straight people, Joule said. "Marriage is not for everybody but everybody should have the choice." And he said that marriage equality does not relate "in any shape or form" to religion. "Christians don't own marriage... it pre-dates Christianity," he said. He noted that if New Zealand law followed the Bible "polygamy would be legal and practising homosexual couples would still be put to death. We've moved on from that," he said, adding that he looked forward to a time when a person's sexuality could not be "an impediment to full participation in society." The final word from the podium came from Wall who said "The world is growing up... it is time church leaders showed respect, tolerance and understanding." The generally light-hearted mood of the debate broke down only towards the end, during question time when a member of the audience repeatedly hectored Wall, claiming that she was not answering his question regarding children being denied the right to have non-same-sex parents. One of the most popular questions was posed by a woman in the audience who raised the issue of bisexuality and other sexualities on the continuum between straight and homosexual. If marriage remains exclusively for those who are straight, 'who is going to decide who is sufficiently straight to qualify?' she asked, to applause and cheers. A quick preliminary tally of voting cards filled in by the audience members appeared to show that most in the overwhelmingly pro-bill audience were still in favour of it after the debate, with many of those people even more in favour after hearing the pros and cons debated. [Editor's note: The above is a representative summary of many of the main points raised or debated by the participants, it is not a full transcript or itemisation of all arguments presented during the debate.] Jay Bennie - 2nd October 2012    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Tuesday, 2nd October 2012 - 11:27pm

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