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The Maxim Institute and the Relationships Bill

Sun 13 Feb 2005 In: Comment

Soon, Parliament will debate the second and third readings of the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill, so what is the Maxim Institute up to? From its front webpage, one might be forgiven for assuming that the Institute had abandoned the issue altogether, as there's no mention in its "Real Issues" weekly email slot, and even the sidebars aren't commenting. However, first impressions are misleading. Look more closely, and you'll see how shallow the NCEA and hate speech comments really are. Use their onsite search engine, and you'll soon find their CUA/ Relationships Bill website. The Institute renovated its anti-Civil Union Bill website in December. It is now refocused on the 'menaces' of same-sex marriage, adoption law reform and the forthcoming Relationships (Statutory References) Bill. I took a look at it, and was not impressed. Of interest are three major subheadings, related to the Civil Union Act, Relationships Bill and a 'Did You Know' reference section. None of them have substantive references to back up their alleged statements of fact. Let's deal with the Civil Unions Act first. Will the Civil Union Act 'lead' to same-sex marriage? I suspect not, not before adoption law reform is dealt with. And why isn't lesbian/gay relationship recognition a 'human rights' issue? Indeed it is- the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and related lesbian/gay legal challenges to relationship and parenting discrimination contain ample references to professional findings about the existence of such substantive discrimination, and New Zealand's Relationship (Statutory References) Bill is indeed based on the findings of comparable Commonwealth jurisdictions that have taken this step. Heterosexual marriage is not transhistorical or universal. In its current form, it is less than three or four centuries old. Working-class couples simply cohabited due to the discriminatory costs of marriage, and New Zealand history contains references to single-sex insitutions that prevented heterosexual socialisation on South Island estates during the nineteenth century. Does the Maxim Institute really think that it has standards of legal scholarship comparable to Princeton University's Lawrence Stone , for example? And as for the US Christian Right's 'marriage movement,' it has been criticised repeatedly for its selectivity and ignorance of mainstream spousal and family-related sociological and psychological research. Once again, we have ridiculous fears about the alleged imminent threat of polygamy. Once again, I must note that heterosexual polygamy has not been recognised as equivalent to heterosexual monogamy in most Western jurisdictions, pending Canadian immigration case law and a forthcoming challenge from schismatic Mormonoids within the Fundamentalist Church of the Latter-Day Saints in Canada. It is far from certain that polygamous spousal rights will be upheld, or that New Zealand will accept the legitimacy of Canadian case law in this instance. Simply read Butterworths' Family Law in New Zealand (2003) for clarification of the current legal status of polygamy in this country. Maxim argues that the Relationships Bill threatens the special rights of married couples. Oops. Sorry, special status. It has analysed related statutory and regulatory reforms and noted that the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill will impose new financial obligations, liabilities and prohibitions on same-sex spousal relationships as well as rights, within twenty-eight pieces of legislation. So? We accept that the Relationships Bill is about rights and responsibilities, and are willing to accept the consequences of social maturity and those related impositions. Actually, this is probably the weakest link in the Institute's chain. Why shouldn't lesbian and gay couples face equal obligations and responsibilities to our heterosexual counterparts? While I think that individualised spousal benefits should be extended to heterosexual married women and men as well as lesbians and gay men, the current government is balancing fiscal and social responsibilities, so that won't happen. However, there is a two-year period of grace. And afterwards, the Institute gets speculative. Fundamentalist churches will be besieged with hordes of lesbians and gay men in bad wigs and crap seventies outfits, demanding to be given same-sex marriages! Children will learn adverse lessons about spousal responsibilities. No, they won't. The Institute cannot expect to get away with this rabble-rousing when it has acknowledged that Stacey and Biblarz' landmark research does constitute strong findings about same-sex parenting, within its own Care of Children Act submission earlier last year. Same-sex adoption rights and responsibilities will be next! Well, Logan knows this already. He already fumed about the Law Commission's positive findings in its 'Adoption: Options for Reform' white paper back in his Education Development Foundation days. And same-sex parenting is already recognised within access to reproductive technologies, fostering regulations and the Care of Children Act's guardianship provisions. If they're going to propose a ban, then they need substantive research to prove that same-sex parenting has adverse effects on educational achievement and employment prospects, or child welfare. There is no such credible documented evidence. Finally, the Institute is working itself into a lather about same-sex marriage. It really believes that we will be so tactically unsophisticated as to immediately challenge the convertability provisions of the Marriage Act and Civil Union Act. Why? And yes, the Civil Union and Relationships Acts will be about state endorsement of monogamous relationships in general, and equalise rights entitlements and allocation of responsibilities and obligations. Again, this is their achilles heel. And again, they make the same assertions about polygamy and prospective amendment of the Adoption Act. Why did they bother? It's too late. They should have had the foresight to do more effective research about the Relationships Bill before they started obsessing about the Civil Unions Act and same-sex marriages. Furthermore, why are most of these unsubstantiated allegations not referenced with footnotes, so that they can be critically examined? If this is any indication of the 'quality' of Christian Right arguments against relationship recognition, then the Relationships Bill debate will be extremely short in duration. Recommended Reading: Maxim Institute anti- Relationship Bill website: Mads Andenaes et al (ed) Legal Recognition of Same Sex Partnerships:Oxford: Berg: 2001. Craig Young - 13th February 2005    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Sunday, 13th February 2005 - 12:00pm

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