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John Key, supporter of equality for gays and lesbians

Sun 3 Dec 2006 In: Features View at Wayback View at NDHA

John Key Last year's Civil Unions Bill, conferring formal legal status on same sex relationships, was a litmus test for the moral conscience of members of Parliament. One of those who voted against Civil Unions, John Key, MP for Helensville, has emerged as the new leader of the National Party. While Key voted for the Property (Relationships) Amendment Bill, ushering in a tidy up of laws which discriminated against same sex couples in a myriad of ways, Civil Unions - a conscience vote - appeared to be a step too far. "I voted for the Property (Relationships) part of the bill because I really felt that the situation there was totally discriminatory. I guess the view I have taken is that marriage is an institution of the church, I don't think it is necessary to have that label put on every relationship many people don't in fact want that. But marriage wasn't being asked for in the Civil Unions Bill anyway, that was a demarkation that the Government made themselves. And voting against legalised Civil Unions for same sex and de facto couples was not discriminatory? Key followed the same path trodden by his neighbouring National MP, Lockwood Smith of Kaipara. "Because I see myself as the elected representative of the people of Helensville. I try to reflect that in my voting on conscience issues, as opposed to a personal vote from my own perspective. I had done some polling, I wouldn't say it was extensive, but i did some polling in my electorate and on the basis of that polling I voted against civil unions." ELECTORATE VS PERSONAL VIEWS - THE CONSCIENCE VOTE Putting the 'will of the electorate' aside, would John Key otherwise have voted for Civil Unions? "Personally I have no problems with Civil Unions... there was an argument put forward that civil unions would undermine marriage, and I never believed that line. I have been married for 22 years and the fact that a gay couple may choose to have a Civil Union would have absolutely no impact on my marriage to my wife." Key says he doesn't intend to pre-judge the construction of families. "We have friends who are a gay couple bringing up children, I would support any gay or lesbian couple bringing up children, I would hope for them what I want for any children and that is for them to give the best parental instruction and love and attention that they can for the children that are in their care." The Brash leadership and its advisers appears to have fostered a relationship with a number of very anti-gay, conservative, religious groups, and the need for their votes and background support clearly influenced some National MPs, including Brash himself, to flip flop from supporting Civil Unions to voting against. But National's new leader believes in a clear separation of church and state. "I think we largely live in a secular society, I think there are many religions operating in NZ and it is in the best interests of the state to make decisions that are on a secular basis so they don't discriminate. I'm no supporter of these hard right religions. [For instance,] I was never offered, I would never have accepted any financial support from the Exclusive Brethren. I met them as a constituency MP, as I would meet anyone as a constituency MP on constituency issues as I believe it's wrong to discriminate. But I intend having no contact with the Brethren going forward." JUDGMENT AND PREFERENCE Brash is gone from the leadership, and his close cabal of advisers has all but evaporated. Expediency politics may have led National down a dead end but in right wing politics its hard to believe that homosexuality wont become a public issue again, with calls for moral judgement to forestall moral and social rot. "I don't think I am a terribly judgmental person," says Key. "I don't care what people's sexual preferences are, It's for them to determine that. We have friends who are gay and lesbian, just as we have dozens of friends who are heterosexual. I judge my friends on the basis of the friendship that we have and the support we give each other, not on their sexual preferences which, as far as I am concerned, is their business and their business alone." Sexual 'preferences?' There's that scary word beloved of fundamentalist preachers. Does Key believe that we glbt people exercise a choice over our sexuality? "No. I believe it is innate. I am not an expert in these areas but I have had all these religious groups in my electoral office trying to argue that this is learned behavior, personally I believe that is crap. The only way I can express that is that I am not gay and that is not a conscious decision I made, it's just the way I feel. I assume that gay people have other feelings." Jay Bennie - 3rd December 2006    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 3rd December 2006 - 12:00pm

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