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Gay gains are safe, says Tim Barnett

Fri 16 Aug 2002 In: Features

The seemingly unholy alliance between the Labour government and United Future, which seems to be awash with conservative Christians, is sounding warning bells in gay minds. After all, there is still work to be done on laws affecting us. Labour MP Tim Barnett believes there is little to be worried about. ( would have like to have had an alternate view from any of the other political parties in Parliament. However, Labour is the only party with 'out' gay MPs.)  This column is in response to concern at what Labour's newly announced arrangement with United Future means for the Rainbow communities, for current lesbian/gay/transgender policy and practice and for our aspirations for the nation's Rainbow communities. It starts by reviewing where we are at, and then addresses the worries. New Zealand Labour has a proud history in promoting lesbian, gay and transgender rights. High points include overwhelming Caucus voting support for homosexual law reform in the 1980s and for human rights law reform in the 1990's, and the establishment of the Rainbow Branch network from 1996 onwards. However, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the recipe of the pudding changes as time moves on. The perfectly reasonable expectation of the Rainbow communities is now that serious political parties will engage with the wide diversity of concerns around the law, government and sexuality at a variety of levels, not just get it right on one-off occasions or voice abstract platitudes which are meaningless when the real issues emerge. Labour have, in my view, been the only political party in New Zealand to respond to this challenge. By growing the influence of Rainbow, we have ensured that we are not out of touch with the mood on the ground. By having MPs from Rainbow communities continuously for the past 9 years, including the world's only transgender MP and the world's only current openly gay Cabinet Minister, we have ensured that our power structures include a Rainbow voice. By being a party which has actively promoted the involvement of women at every level, creating a feminised environment for policy development, we have been unfazed by issues such as same-sex relationship recognition and the need for the school curriculum to engage with issues around sexuality. By having a leader who has a very special understanding of our communities, and enjoys the opportunity to attend Rainbow events and speak with our media, our commitment to inclusion of lesbian, gay and transgender people in human rights is constantly reaffirmed. It is within this context that we need to analyse and understand the arrangement with United Future NZ. In Labour's first term of office, we achieved much. For example, the government became subject to human rights law, opening up the possibility of challenges over remaining discrimination in relationship law and related rights (e.g. parenting). The Labour-sponsored Civil Union Bill project forged a broad consensus on the way forward in relationship law and is now on the verge of being introduced. Labour agreed a Rainbow policy which was publicised around the electionand gives us a strong programme for the next three years. Things will not go backwards now that Labour has the arrangement with United Future. Progress may be slower than we would all like; that is the inevitable result of such a finely balanced Parliament. Special concerns have been raised about the Commission for the Family. For it to ignore queer families would be a breach of the Human Rights Act; no responsible government could agree with that. Are you wondering what you could do to ensure that our programme progresses? Two things. One would be to contact your local Members of Parliament - from whatever party - and tell them what you think of laws and systems which continue to discriminate against you. Second, you can help Labour's work to ensure that the government is covered by the Human Rights Act by telling the Human Rights Commission - through visiting, phoning or e-mailing - how you are given second-rate status by the current law. The more people they hear from, the more empowered they are to act. Tim Barnett Labour Member of Parliament Tim Barnett - 16th August 2002    

Credit: Tim Barnett

First published: Friday, 16th August 2002 - 12:00pm

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