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Craig Young's top 10 politics and religion stories of 2014

Tue 30 Dec 2014 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

As 2014 draws to a close, it's time to reflect on the highs and lows that characterised New Zealand and overseas LGBT news this year. 1. Scotland (Marriage Equality): Only slightly later than neighbouring England and Wales to its immediate south, but by an impressive margin, Scotland voted to introduce marriage equality within its devolved legislature in February 2014 (105-18!) and it received royal assent in March 2014. It will take full effect on 16 December 2014 and the first LGBT marriages are scheduled to occur on 31 December 2014. This marks the culmination of a five year campaign from a variety of LGBT and other liberal community welfare organisations to get marriage equality subject to consultation, legislative drafting and legislative passage. There was the usual naysaying from the usual suspects (anti-SSM "Scotland for Marriage" and the Scottish Catholic hierarchy), but it was derailed by the fact that Catholic Cardinal Keith O'Brien was forced to acknowledge that he sexually harassed young priests earlier in his career. Given that England and Wales took the same step in 2013, the only constituent British state that still forbids it is unsurprisingly the fundamentalist-dominated backwater of Northern Ireland. 2. Finland (Marriage Equality): In late November 2014, Finland became the fourth and last Scandinavian state to recognise marriage equality, as well as the nineteenth overall. It was an uphill battle. It was also a citizens initiative. In March 2012, legislation had been submitted to Finland's legislature, but its Legislative Affairs Committee refused to recommend that it proceed further in February 2013. There was a second citizens initiative and this time, it had even greater support- 160,000 supporters. After this reintroduction occurred in December 2013, the Legislative Affairs Committee tried to stonewall it again on June 2014. However, on 28 November 2014, the Finnish Parliament finally acknowledged the inevitable, voting for its passage on 28 November 2014 (105-92). Finland usually lags behind on LGBT issues compared to its more progressive neighbours. Norway and Sweden both legislated for marriage equality in 2009, while Denmark followed suit in 2012. 3. United States (Marriage Equality): One of the most extraordinary developments this year has had to be the wildfire progress of state-based marriage equality reform campaigns throughout most of the United States. As of December 2014, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington state, Washington DC, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming all either passed legislation to enable marriage equality, had existing statutory or state constitutional barriers struck down in the courts, or had referenda that enabled passage of marriage equality. Appeals are occurring in Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Nebraska. However, that still means thirty-five out of the fifty United States now recognise marriage equality, comprising almost two-thirds of the current US population. The antigay National Organisation for Marriage is now two million dollars in debt and faces repeated petitions for donor identity disclosure. Typically, the backward Southern United States is fighting the inevitable every step of the way. As for the US Supreme Court, it appears to be practicing "benign neglect" through refusing to hear appeals against the validation decisions. It has been especially humilating for the US Christian Right in Colorado, where Colorado Springs houses the national headquarters of several such pressure groups, particularly the predatory multinational "Focus on the Family." 4. Kelly Ellis: Following a successful campaign that centred on safe incarceration needs for transitioning transpeople with the assistance of the Equal Justice Project, transgender lawyer Kelly Ellis followed that up with an equally robust campaign as Labour candidate for the safe National Party seat of Whangarei. Unfortunately, Ellis did not win the seat off National, whose candidate, Shane Reti, won by a 13,000 vote margin. However, Ellis' candidacy was no worse than that of her predecessor as Labour candidate and she retained roughly the same level of support in the seat, so clearly her gender identity did not discourage voters. Unfortunately, too, at No 52 on Labour's party list, it would have taken an extraordinary upset to get her into Parliament. One hopes that this initial setback does not discourage someone who is widely tipped to eventually become the first transgender Minister of Justice or Attorney-General when she does make it to Parliament. 5: 2014 New Zealand General Election: The less said about this, the better. Although Nicky Hager's new book Dirty Politicsresulted in the eventual sacking of former National Party Justice Minister Judith Collins, unfortunately Labour's inept leader David Cunliffe was outmanouveured by the Key administration's core strategist Steven Joyce. Moreover, for once Hager's usually expert sense of timing deserted him- it seems to have been too close to the actual election date and may not have given voters enough time to critically assess the fallout. As matters stand, National almost won 61 seats, which would have given them an absolute majority, while Labour's poor performance meant that we lost Maryan Street, a long-time Labour List MP and out lesbian. Moreover, Tony Milne did not succeed in winning back Christchurch Central for Labour, nor was Kelly Ellis placed high enough on the party list to enter Parliament. The consequence is further dimunition of the Labour parliamentary caucus although fortunately, the Greens held their own, although they were also disappointed at not increasing their voter share. For our communities, the one bright spot was that the Conservative Party polled only four percent and was thus unable to enter Parliament and sabotage progressive political values and aspirations. 6. Supplementary Order Paper 432: Manurewa Labour MP Louisa Wall tried unsuccessfully to attach the aforementioned SOP 432 to the Statute Amendments Bill No 4, only to be sabotaged by Justice Minister Judith Collins. If Wall had been successful, the SOP would have added gender identity to our antidiscrimination Human Rights Act. 7. Grant Robertson: So close, but not quite close enough. On his second tilt at the Labour leadership after David Cunliffe's resignation, out gay Wellington Central MP Grant Robertson had a majority of support from the party rank and file and parliamentary caucus, but not the trade union vote, which elected Andrew Little as party leader. To his credit, Little has been conciliatory and Robertson is now Labour's Finance spokesperson. Given that Treasury is a core influence on New Zealand government policy and provides a powerbase second only to that of the Prime Minister, this is a praiseworthy and canny move. Robertson won't be the first LGBT Commonwealth Finance Minister, though- during the Gillard administration across the Tasman, Penny Wong filled that role. 8. New Ugandan Antigay Legislation: Although David Bahati's abysmal "Anti-Homosexuality Act" was shot down by Uganda's Constitutional Court last year, unfortunately, Ugandan Vice-President Edward Ssekendi and MP Setif Ssebagala have been meeting with several other legislators to work on a replacement. If it passes Uganda's legislature, President Yoweri Museveni will have to sign it into law again- or he could refer it to the finance committee. The proposed new bill will still outlaw "promotion of homosexuality" to minors, as well as targeting LGBT-oriented charities and NGOs, making it an offence to "promote unnatural sexual relations" and also to make an "image" that depicts "unnatural sexual relations." The new legislation is now called "The Prohibition of the Promotion of Unnatural Sexual Practices Bill." This new legislation could be passed by Uganda's corrupt parliament before Christmas 2014. Imitating Uganda, Gambia's buffoonish dictator President Yahya Jammeh has passed similar legislation elsewhere in Africa. 9. Brunei: Shariah Law: Although Russian, Ugandan, Nigerian and Gambian antigay legislation have attracted international LGBT analysis and condemnation, the same is also true of the Indonesian archipelago sultanate of Brunei. Much to Asia-Pacific LGBT alarm, Brunei announced its intention to pass Islamist shariah law as a legal code. While shariah law provides a range of possible emphases in regulating interpersonal conduct, the Brunei version is a repressive reading of Sunni Islamic tradition. It would result in the execution of people for lesbian or gay sex, extramarital straight sex and infidelity, causing physical injury to another, apostasy from Sunni Islam and consumption of alcohol, as well as violence against women. It will also result in fines and imprisonment for theft, which will be upgraded to harsher amputation of limbs for theft two years after enactment. Unfortunately, Brunei is an oil-rich OPEC member, but even so, international LGBT campaigners have called for boycotting the Royal Dorchester Hotel Group and Royal Brunei Airlines. New Zealand is still seeking to include Brunei in the controversial Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership despite this worrying development. New Zealand has diplomatic representation in Brunei, trade relationships and allows Bruneian overseas students to study at our universities, despite the enactment of this proposed legislation. 10. Canada and C-279: To finish this brief look at leading LGBT news items, Canada's Harper administration is under attack for its repeated stonewalling of Bill C-279 in Canada's Senate, its federal upper house, despite the fact that the House of Commons passed C-279 in 2012. The Harper administration may be pandering to Canada's Christian Right, who are mouthing moronic US Christian Right comments about imaginary "transgender sexual predators' lurking in showers and changing rooms, despite the fact that Canadian Senate analysis has shown this to be nothing more than a lurid transphobic fantasy. If C-279 doesn't pass before August/September 2015 when Parliament rises, transgender Canadians will have to go through the same process all over again. Fortunately, current opinion polls suggest the resurgence of Canada's Liberal Party under its popular current leader, Justin Trudeau. Craig Young - 30th December 2014    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Tuesday, 30th December 2014 - 9:42am

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