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Marriage Equality: VME Day

Sat 20 Apr 2013 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

And so, New Zealand has become the thirteenth nation to recognise marriage equality, after Parliament voted on its third and final reading to pass the legislation (77-44). What happened and what happens now? In the fortnight before the final vote, Family First and its motley collection of satellites tried to mobilise flagging opponent enthusiasm for the final effort. Family First printed a local newspaper template urging fundamentalists and conservative Catholics to lobby whom it considered 'wavering' MPs as it tried to erode the margin in support of marriage equality. A so-called "ad hoc" group, "New Zealanders for Marriage", urged conservative Christians to hold anti-equality rallies/ 'prayer meetings' within New Zealand parks and other places. It turned out to be a front group for Auckland-based Catholic Right group Family Life International, who had also inviteda Canadian Catholic Right activist, John-HarryWesten, editor of the Canadian anti-abortion/antigay Lifesite website,tooppose marriageequality. One might be questioning whyh FLI invited Westen now, well after most of the parliamentary debate is over with. One reason is that it may want to motivate more intensive conservative Catholic participation, while the other is that FLI is a comparatively small organisation compared to Family First and the Conservative Party in the fundamentalist quarter. It could probably only afford to import a single speaker. It's too little and too late. Moreover, despite Westen's belligerence, the Canadian Christian Right has a mediocre track record, having failed to prevent marriage equality, inclusive adoption reform, decriminalisation of abortion, sex work or euthanasia access. Only Canadian censorship policy is an exception to this overall rule. At the same time, cracks were beginning to show in thefragile cross-denominational alliance of conservative Catholics and fundamentalists, as"New Zealanders for Marriage" opposed the participation of(sectarian anti-Catholic) Pentecostal "spiritual warfare" advocates within suchrallies. This is due to the aggressive militaristic rhetoric, bizarre "prophetic" prediction statements, belligerent presentation and designation of one's political opponents as "demonically possessed." New Zealanders for Marriage is also worried that "secular media" would "misunderstand" this behaviour. One should also note that this Pentecostal fundamentalist movement is noted for its anti-Catholic, anti-Mormon and otherwise sectarian attitude toward other Christian denominations and faiths. They have strong connections to former Texan Republican Governor Rick Perry and closely involved with supporting his run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2011. Will this appeal succeed? Or are they frightened of another counter-productive public spectacle like the Destiny Church "Enough is Enough" rally against civil unions back in 2005? In any case, most mainstream media outlets ignored the rallies, which may indicate low membership turnout. One News, 3News, the New Zealand Herald or the Fairfax newspapers did not cover the event. On Family Life International's website, there was an interview with conservative Catholic Canadian "Lifesite" news editor John-Henry Westen, but nothing particularly substantive against marriage equality or same-sex parenting was broadcast. Nor did New Zealanders for Marriage provide any supplementary coverage of the events on their website. On Sunday, there was a full-page Family First advertisement in the New Zealand Herald, which was the only such newspaper advertisement featured during this campaign. This suggests a financially straitened anti-equality campaign, which had to restrict most of its activities to existing Auckland-based Christian Right networks, with minor outreach to Family Life International's conservative Catholic networks in Wellington and Conservative Party activist Gordon Copeland. No such rallies were reported in Dunedin and Christchurch, or even in any provincial cities outside Nelson and Blenheim. On Monday, the New Zealand Herald and Dominion Post questioned Louisa Wall and Gordon Copeland over the Marriage Equality Bill, with no mention made of New Zealanders for Marriage, Family First or the Conservative Party. On the day of the vote, one final afternoon anti-equality meeting was announced at Wellington's Abundant Life Centre, a fundamentalist church. Christians for Marriage Equalityorganised a thanksgiving and affirmation service at St. Andrews on the Terrace Presbyterian Churchas a counter to this negative response. The "New Zealand Christian Network" mourned the result. SPCS churned out bizarre media releases from its own Kapiti Coast headquarters, ignored by most. In terms of overseas propaganda, Family First then publishedtwo tiresome rant from the US Family Research Council's Peter Sprigg and a conservative US "Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute" lionising the flawed and discredited Regnerus study in an attack on same-sex parenting and mainstream medical and social science research that affirmed it. As time went on, it seemed to be losing its grip, reprinting a piece from prominent New Right welfare 'reform' advocate Lindsay Mitchell on Maori and marriage uptake, condemning the absence of the latter. This isn't going to impress Maori communities, or Catholic Right anti-abortionists, given that Ms Mitchell is astaunch libertarian supporter of abortion rights, marriage equality and adoption reform. It seemed to have forgotten that it earlier hawked support from marginal Maori social conservative talkback hosts John Tamihere and Willie Jackson, now discarded apparently. One wonders if this had anything to do with recent Radio Live low audience ratings for the right-wing shock jocks in question. On Monday, Family First issued a tabloid report about an apparent case of "consensual adult" incest from its website that involved a university professor and his twenty four year old daughter within the United States, overlooking the fact that such activities are illegal in the United States, much as they are in New Zealand under Section 130 (2) of the Crimes Act. It was ignored by the mainstream media, unsurprisingly. Unable to get to Wellington in time, I watched the third reading debate in the warmth and comfort of Palmerston North's Club Q. Most of the speeches were about inclusion, discrimination and inequality, rejecting the fearmongering of Family First, Catholic Action, SPCS and their counterparts. Louisa Wall and Te Ureroa Flavell discussed the relationship between indigenous cultural identity, sexuality and ethnicity and tradition in their speeches. Grant Robertson talked about what the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Act had meant to him as a gay teenager growing up in Otago. Nikki Kaye, Maryan Street and Kevin Hague all referred to LGBT youth, suicide, substance abuse, depression and other mental health issues. John Banks apologised (!) for his opposition to homosexual law reform in the eighties. Kris Faafoi referred to his own sense of Pacific cultural values as a response to Su'a William Sio, who didn't speak during this debate. Mojo Mathers talked proudly about her lesbian daughter, while Kevin Hague talked about his partner and son. Moana Mackey revealed that her mother, former Labour MP Janet Mackey, had been a member of the pro-gay straight supporters group Heterosexuals Unafraidof Gays during the eighties. As for the opponents, Chester Borrows and Jonathon Young were at least civil in their dissent, and Burrows even acknowledged the extremism of some of the opponents. Unfortunately, Winston Peters descended into cheap populist rancor, attacking Louisa Wall personally and defending his party's binding referenda stance. Tau Henare took the opportunity to say how disgusted he was with his former party leader, bluntly accusing New Zealand First of being a racist redneck cult of personality. Maurice Williamson revealed a talent for acid wit that is the equal of any drag queen as he mocked the opponents of reform. After two hours of debate, the final vote was taken. Five minutes later, the final vote was in- 77-44.As we did during the Rugby World Cup, we beat France again- this time, when it came to marriage equality. New Zealand is now the thirteenth country to legislate for marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform. I also watched the response on late Wednesday evening and Thursday morning network television news. S  

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Saturday, 20th April 2013 - 6:11pm

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