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MPs: Pro-gay stance didn't doom Labour

Tue 11 Nov 2008 In: New Zealand Daily News

Labour's socially progressive stance over its nine years in Government, which included legal recognition of same-sex relationships, was not a factor in its election defeat, according to one outgoing and two incoming gay MPs. The introduction of the Civil Unions Bill sparked intense media and Parliamentary debate and infamously saw blackshirted Destiny church acolytes angrily march on Parliament and through downtown Auckland. Other highly controversial social legislation passed during Labour's time included legalising prostitution and outlawing the smacking of children. Tim Barnett, the long-serving Labour MP who retired from Parliament at the end of the last term, is one of those who says his party wasn't tainted by such initiatives. "There was probably more mention of some of these issues this time than there was in the last election, but I think that’s just an indication that some conservatives in society were more to the fore in this campaign," he says. "They were feeling more confident and were prepared to raise those issues." Barnett believes that New Zealanders on the whole don't object to legislative changes conferring equality on all citizens. "I don’t think there is any evidence at all that legislating and working for genuine equality, including for lesbian, gay and transgender people, has harmed Labour or indeed harmed the Greens." The Greens' Kevin Hague believes people who strongly objected to Labour-supported social legislation such as Civil Unions wouldn't have been Labour voters beforehand and thus wouldn't have affected the vote. Labour lost because "people just wanted change," Hague says. Asked if Labour's social reforms and LGBT advocacy helped lead to their downfall, new Labour MP Grant Robertson says he doesn't think so. "It's true that Labour has been a strong supporter of gay and lesbian communities, and I'm very proud of that. But the messages around [National's slogan] 'It's time for a change' were different to that. I think we can be proud of what we’ve done, and continue to be an advocate for the gay and lesbian communities. Barnett says he has observed a "generational shift" in support for Labour "after nine very successful years doing mainstream things for New Zealanders, but including in those mainstream things the importance of giving a whole bunch of New Zealanders equal human rights. That's the story of the last nine years of the Labour government and now that’s at an end, and we’re into a much more threatening period.      

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Tuesday, 11th November 2008 - 8:55pm

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