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Fear of a Gay President?

Mon 7 Dec 2015 In: Comment View at Wayback View at NDHA

Returning to the republicanism debate: I was surprised to learn that a very dear friend is a monarchist. Although I'm a 'soft' republican, I don't believe that non-elected heads of states necessarily serve our interests. While I respect and admire Queen Elizabeth II for her tireless commitment to public service and civic life, she is now the longest-reigning monarch in the history of the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth, having recently passed Queen Victoria in terms of the duration of her reign and personal longevity. Unfortunately, that may lead to exactly the same problems that arose with Edward VII- a rather short reign for Charles III and a longer one for William V. Why shouldn't New Zealand, Australia or other Commonwealth nations have a binding referendum to choose whether or not we want to continue this state of constitutional affairs? I do have monarchist friends and regularly if informally debate the issue with them. Their concern is this. As a constitutional monarch, the current Queen and her successors have little effective authority. They are paid from the civil list, provided with funding for their duties and responsibilities and participate at ceremonial events, as well as occasionally venturing outside the United Kingdom on royal visits. As Canada, Australia and New Zealand have all become economically independent of the United Kingdom, there are pressures for constitutional and symbolic changes to represent that divergence. And so Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, New Zealand has the MMP electoral system instead of First Past the Post and Australia has its perennial republicanism debate. In terms of political priorities, I would rather that we adopted a Charter of Rights and Freedoms or entrenched Bill of Rights before we proceed to a debate about the nature of our head of state. Liberal constitutional monarchists point out that precisely because we have a constitutional monarch, she or he is unable to directly affect New Zealand politics, which means she or he would be unable to refuse to ratify existing LGBT rights legislation. And although an Australian Governor General (Sir John Kerr) did sack the late ALP federal Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975, such constitutional intervention has not been repeated elsewhere in the Commonwealth, although the precedent obviously exists. We've had female and Maori Governor Generals beforehand, so a lesbian or gay or transgender appointment isn't beyond the realm of possibility. However, that is the crux of the matter- "appointed" as opposed to directly elected. Liberal monarchists point to the 'imperial presidencies' of France and the United States, and ask if they represent satisfactorily representative and accountable head of state arrangements. Do we really want the likes of Ronald Reagan or George W.Bush making biased and incompetent decisions that damage and impair the operation of democratic institutions? It needn't be that way, however. Take Ireland. In that nation, as in New Zealand, the head of state has little executive power and is a purely ceremonial figure, and there have already been two highly regarded female Irish Presidents-Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese. At the last Irish presidential election, out gay man Senator David Norris stood for the presidency, although he finished fourth within the field. At one time, he was the leading contender. Most senior British Commonwealth jurisdictions concentrate their political authority and decision making processes within a democratically elected legislature, from whose ranks party leaders are selected, and the executive/Prime Minister usually has wide-ranging authority unless limited by a constitutional document such as an entrenched Bill of Rights or written constitution. So, when the current monarch passes away, should we then have a referendum to decide whether New Zealand wants her successor to be our head of state? It'd be useful to have the choice, whenever it occurs. Daily News staff - 7th December 2015    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Monday, 7th December 2015 - 10:30am

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