Search Browse On This Day Map Quotations Timeline Research Free Datasets Remembered About Contact

MP Gordon Copeland: "God's seal of approval"

Fri 11 Nov 2005 In: Features

The human rights rollback for the glbt community in New Zealand has begun. Back before Parliament is the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Bill, a bill that not only slaps gays and lesbians in the face with a legally superfluous reminder that same-sex couples are not entitled to get married, but also contains a clause designed to undo human rights protections via the back door. A clause contained within this bill, already cited by the Attorney-General as being in violation of the Bill of Rights Act, says that “Measures taken in good faith for the purpose of assisting or advancing marriage do not constitute discrimination.” As gays and lesbians cannot get married, such a clause would allow an open season on discrimination against same-sex and de-facto couples in the name of “advancing marriage”, a clause that reverses the very spirit and intent of both the Human Rights and Relationships (Statutory References) Acts. This dangerous private members bill was withdrawn in the last Parliament by United Future MP Larry Baldock because he didn't have the numbers. Baldock was dumped by voters at the election, which saw a drastic reduction in the number of United Future MPs from eight to three. But despite Baldock's demise, his bill has lived on, with the mantle being taken up by United Future MP Gordon Copeland. Copeland firmly believes that New Zealanders are behind him on this bill, but in the course of our interview with him it became clear that the real purpose of the bill was not to clarify laws but to enforce a form of religious correctness on the public. He believes intimacy within heterosexual marriage is “the only sexual activity which is sanctioned by God, which has God's seal of approval” and all other relationships, be they straight or gay, fall short of God's standards. He insists, though, that these personal beliefs have nothing to do with the bill. Read on... * So, the Marriage (Gender Clarification) Bill is back? Copeland: It's actually top of the order paper for the first members' day in the new Parliament, and we're expecting that might be December 7, which coincidentally by the way happens to be my 42nd wedding anniversary (laughs). Congratulations. Copeland: So that's an interesting little facet to it. Interesting. So, what's the purpose of the bill? Copeland: There are really four purposes in the bill. The first one is simply to have the Marriage Bill explicitly state that marriage is between one man and one woman. That is implied, of course, in the current Marriage Act, but it is not explicitly stated that that is the case. So I think making that implicit, as it were, means that... well, there are two things I suppose. It rules out marriage between two people of the same sex, and it also rules out the possibility of polygamy. Why is it necessary to do this now? Copeland: Ah... this is in line with what has happened in Australia. Australia has done a very similar thing. They've put through a Marriage Amendment Bill in 2004. There are a number of reasons. One of them I think is to do with the Civil Unions Act. The Civil Unions Act has, as you would fully appreciate, has been pretty controversial in New Zealand, and it's one of those things that has split the country to a degree. Something which, for example, Helen Clark mentioned after the election was a need to try and work to bring New Zealand society back into some unified position. And in the course of the, um, the considerations of the Civil Unions Bill, there were... actually a huge number of submissions, probably more than 90% of them, that basically said, look, we can extend civil rights to same-sex couples etc, without needing to downgrade the legal or social status of marriage. How did civil unions do that exactly? Copeland: Well... I think by suggesting that... I think the Civil Unions Bill did that, to answer your question straightforwardly, by actually proposing a ceremony which is based on exactly the wording of a marriage ceremony. In other words, there... as you know, it involves a ceremonial bringing together of two people of the same sex. Or indeed, two people of the opposite sex who choose to go that way. On that second point, I must say, I find that pretty feeble because we've always had civil marriage in New Zealand from the beginning of the nation, so to my mind the Civil Unions Bill is really about same sex couples. Other jurisdictions, for example, in Britain, which would have been our party's position, what you could do is allow same-sex couples to register their relationships with the registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. So really, the thing that has unnerved people is the ceremonial aspect of it, if you like. Right. Why has that unnerved people? Why is it bad to have that? Copeland: Because they regard marriage as... unique. And, uh, a sanctified union, that if you infer that something which hasn't got the characteristics of marriage, because, ah, the characteristics of marriage as our bill makes explicit, is between a male and a female. Once you're trying to say we've got an equivalent or a parallel ceremony, there's a sense in which many people say, right, that debases the currency. So who are the ‘they' you're referring to? Copeland: I'm referring to the 90% of people who made submissions on the Civil Union Bill. And they... from memory there were about 6000 submissions on that bill. So a huge number. Most of those were from church groups and lobby groups though. Copeland: Well that doesn't matter. You can call anybody that makes a submission a lobby group. That's the whole point, isn't it? They are lobbying. What I'm saying is, they weren't necessarily representative of the population as a whole. Copeland: No, but there were polls taken at the time showing that the nation was about 60/40, ah, against the Civil Unions Bill. Some were 50/50. Put it this way, it was divisive. It was pretty much a, whatever the range you look at, um, it was pretty much... ah, no I don't think it was 60/40 on second thoughts. Thinking back, it was more like 50/50. So this bill is about asserting the superiority of heterosexual relationships? Copeland: No it's not. No it's not. Its simply, it isn't... ah... it is, it is, it is clarifying in New Zealand law... precisely what the position has been... since the beginning of time. Since the beginning of the human race. That's what it's doing. Now there's another thing it's doing as well. And that is that, we do have overseas jurisdictions where they have same-sex marriage. Canada is an example, and I think there's a couple in Europe, I'm not too sure where they are. And the state of Massachusetts in the United States is a state of that country which has also now got same-sex marriage. The problem therefore arises if a couple have become married, a same-sex couple have become married in one of those jurisdictions, and then migrate to New Zealand, what is the status of that, um, situation in this country? So the law, as they've done in Australia, says that those unions will not be recognised in New Zealand as marriage. So to check off the list here: it's following a bill that Australia have passed, and it's in recognition of the people who submitted against the Civil Union Bill? Following a need that they put forth? Copeland: [pause] Yes. And, the other reason is that in a case called the Quilter case which went to the High Court a few years back, which was a case bought by some lesbian women who wanted, ah, to, get married, and to call their union a marriage. That case was declined, the court said no, marriage does only apply to a male and a female, not to two people of the same sex in our Marriage Act. But they had to go round a fairly circuitous circuit to get to that result. The Marriage Bill talks about husband and wife, (laughs) and on the basis of that, in other words, it comes back to the vows which are in the Marriage Bill which use the words husband and wife, and so they said, well that means, traditionally means a male and a female, therefore that's what's intended by the Marriage Act. And I'm sure that's exactly true. They went on to say, however, we believe that this is something that Parliament may like to consider, to try and clarify what the intention of the Marriage Act actually is, given the changed circumstances that we've got now as compared to 1955. I mean, back in 1955 (laughs) there would have been no one in New Zealand at that stage who would have regarded marriage as anything other than between a male and a female. That wouldn't be the case now? Copeland: Correct. Correct. So that's why we want to amend the law at this point. OK. I'm still a bit confused. What I'm hearing is that you're basing this on a minority of people who have expressed a desire to ensure that marriage remains between a man and a woman, and based on that, you want a law that actually dictates that for the rest of the country. Copeland: I can tell you, without any hesitation whatever, that the majority of New Zealanders support this bill. In other words, there has been a poll done, and about 60% of New Zealanders want to see the law changed in accordance with that bill. I don't suppose you can point to me where that poll is? Copeland: I've got a copy of it (laughs). Can you email it to us, because I'd be very interested... Copeland: Just a second... [Copeland leaves to get a copy of the poll] GC: [returning] I'd just like to make one thing clear to you, since you're, since who you're a reporter for. From my point of view, this is not an anti-gay bill. It's a pro-marriage bill. That's semantics, though isn't it? The only reason this bill exists is to tell gays and lesbians that their relationships aren't worthy of the same recognition. Copeland: [pause] No it's not saying that at all. What it is saying, simply, is that we have a word in our language, the word marriage, which from the beginning of time has meant something, and we want that to continue. So all we're doing is reinforcing a tradition which is thousands of years old. So it's for others to interpret it as you are, that that is anti-something. It's not anti-anything. It's for something. But say if same-sex marriage were legal, then opposite-sex couples would still be able to get married. That would still remain the same. Copeland: [long pause] Well, the, but that's not the case. What we're looking at is the reality of what we've got in New Zealand. We've now got the Marriage Act, and the Civil Union Act, right? One of the, and I know for example that a number of the people in Parliament who would support this bill, but also supported the Civil Unions Bill, the case was made very strongly if you look at Hansard, that... there are many people in this Parliament who voted for the Civil Unions Bill who would not have voted for it, if it the word marriage has been used, OK? So therefore they wanted to keep the distinction very clearly between civil unions on the one hand, and marriage on the other. And that's my position as well. So you don't think the passage of the Civil Union Act itself was enough to make that distinction? Copeland: [big pause] Ah, no, because, because there is still the... the, well you've still got the practical problem I mentioned of, of, of, the way, what's happened in other jurisdictions that have used the word marriage. So you've still got the problem of what do we do with those unions when people migrate here. There could also be a case, of course, where two Kiwis go overseas and get married, two you know, same-sex people go overseas and get married, and come back to New Zealand. So we do have a practical legal problem that needs to be addressed. That is an issue that was debated during civil unions, and from what I understand, it was agreed that a same-sex marriage coming from overseas would be recognised as a civil union. Copeland: [big pause] Well I'm not sure on that point. You may be right. You may be right. I'm just not, sure of that point. That of course, would also be the result of this bill. So what we're doing, if you like, we're just endeavouring to clarify the two situations, both are true. We're trying to clarify marriage on the one hand. The flip side of that is, we're also clarifying what civil unions are in New Zealand. So we have these two things which are different. Being different does not mean some sort of ranking, OK? Being different doesn't imply superiority. Males and females are different, I believe that they have equality of dignity. So this bill does not imply marriage are superior to civil unions? Copeland: No it doesn't. You don't have implications in the law (laughs). The law is the law. So you would consider them both to be equal then? Copeland: Personally, ah, I would say that they have equality in terms of law, yes. From a moral perspective, I would have a very different perspective, but we're talking about law. So they've got their own standing in the law, if you know what I mean. Civil unions have a standing, and marriage has got a standing. So that moral perspective wouldn't have informed the drafting of this bill, and the push to have this bill put through? Copeland: [pause] Well, I mean, none of this can, ah, separate, our morality from our actions as MPs. My own personal situation is that, um... is that, ah, marriage is the only sexual activity which is sanctioned by God, which has God's seal of approval. All other forms of sexual activity, therefore, fall short of that very very high standard, whether they be homosexual or heterosexual. They all fall short of that. So I have a moral distinction between the two, and for me of course, that simply reinforces the fact that all of humanity to a greater or lesser extent is sinful. So, homosexual, heterosexual, we're all in that category, including myself (laughs). Especially me. So its not a question of, of, being judgmental, we're just simply saying, look, here this is what marriage has always meant, and we want to continue for it to mean that. So that perspective you've just outlined, that's the perspective that's behind this bill? Copeland: The, um, no I've said what I've said. I've said what I've said. You're now trying to put words in my mouth. I couldn't have been any clearer with you, could I? I'm just trying to understand what's motivating this. Because there seems to be a correlation between bills like this, and the views that you've espoused. On the one hand, you're saying the relationships are equal, but on the other you're saying they're sinful. Copeland: Let's go through, the things again... first of all... during the election campaign I think every member of Parliament will have discovered, including the Prime Minister, that New Zealand society is quite divided over the issue of the Civil Union Bill. That's just a reality, OK? She herself said we need to get back to trying to unify the country. One of the reasons I think that this bill is important, is it will serve to allay the perception that civil unions somehow downgraded the status of marriage. We almost need a kind of a rebalancing. There is that perception, that's the reality, that it has downgraded the status of marriage, this bill will attempt to rebalance that. And hopefully mean that we can move forward as a nation in unity. That is the principle motivation for it. OK. So if they're equal, as you said before... Copeland: Equal in law, yes. So you mean marriage has been downgraded morally? Copeland: What I said is that the status of marriage has been downgraded. Morally? Copeland: No, in the eyes of, in the eyes of New Zealanders. But in terms of how that precisely has occurred... Copeland: No, it's not just moral, it's legal and social as well. In other words, it's the social standard of marriage which is being... I mean, a little example I could give you is that... there used to be one clear signpost on the highway of life in New Zealand, and that was a signpost that said marriage. Now, as it were, we've got two signposts, one saying marriage and one saying civil unions. And that is the perception, therefore, in peoples minds, there's that in doing that, we've downgraded marriage. So we want to make sure that perception is removed, and we can see quite clearly that there are differences between the two, and that we recognise that in our law. I think that's a very helpful thing for the country. So you're saying as it stands at the moment, that people might choose to go either way? Think they can marry a man or a woman, that's the way they might choose to go? Copeland: [pause] No... because as you know civil unions are the only one of those two which are open to people of the same sex. At the moment? Copeland: Yes, at the moment. Because of what's happening in overseas jurisdictions, there is an apprehension that New Zealand may eventually want to go in the direction of same-sex marriage. And that would be a bridge too far for most New Zealanders. And that was one of the reasons why that wasn't attempted in the last Parliament. A lot of people in the Parliament who voted for the Civil Union Bill said we wouldn't have voted for this if the word marriage was used. Do you think such a law would encourage people to marry a partner of the same sex rather than a partner of the opposite sex? As in, make that choice? Copeland: [pause] I can't comment on that at all. (laughs) I simply have no idea. What I'm interested in doing is ensuring that we uphold the uniqueness and the sanctity of marriage. Right. So, that poll. Have you got it there? Copeland: I have found the poll, but I can't give it to you, I realise. I can... quote from it, but I can't actually give you a copy. It's come to me from a third party, that's the reason for that. In other words, it's been given to me in confidence. What's the source of the poll? Copeland: It's a DigiPoll, done by DigiPoll Ltd. Was this published anywhere? Copeland: Not to my knowledge, no. As I say, its been given to me, in, ah, terms of... a... um... yeah. Can you give the statistics and the date that the poll was conducted? Copeland: July 2005. The question was, do you believe the law should state clearly that marriage can only be between a man and a woman? The yes to that was 57%. OK. GC: So when I was quoting the 60/40 thing before, I was subconsciously referring to that poll. Now that, as I recall it, was quite similar to the result of some of the polls around the CU Bill. There were some around 50/50, and there was one more in the region of 60/40 against. But its not an 80/20 or a 90/10 situation is it? Copeland: No. So you're talking about putting through a bill in which roughly half the people are going to have their wishes ignored? Copeland: Well, as we did with the Civil Union Bill. As we did with prostitution. Let me tell you our party's policy. These conscience votes on moral issues, we should be looking for a much higher threshold for them. Say 60% of all the members of parliament. When you get something through just with a very tight margin of votes, then what you're really seeing there, you've got division in society. Do you know any same-sex couples personally? Copeland: Ah... oh yeah. We've got at least two of them here in Parliament. No, I meant as in, that you would consider friends, people you would socialise with, or people within your own family. Copeland: No... we have a quite a range of same-sex friends, including some very close friends... none of them are, couples. Yeah. So you wouldn't have had first-hand experience in seeing couples that would be affected by a law like civil unions? Copeland: No, only those, as I say, there's Chris Carter and Peter Kaiser here in Parliament... and Tim Barnett and his partner, whose name escapes me at the moment, and of course there's been lots of publicity about other couples throughout the country as well. But no, I don't have any, I don't have any personally, don't have any friends who are living together. Or who are contemplating a civil union. Thanks very much for talking to us today. FINAL NOTE: DigiPoll Ltd, who regularly conduct opinion polls for the New Zealand Herald, confirmed for us today that the poll Copeland refers to above had indeed been conducted by them, but not for the Herald. It had been carried out following a request by a private client, who did not wish to be identified. DigiPoll could not release any of the poll's details to us without the permission of the client. We have passed our contact details onto DigiPoll, and are awaiting contact from the elusive individual(s) who requested this poll be conducted. - 11th November 2005    


First published: Friday, 11th November 2005 - 12:00pm

Rights Information

This page displays a version of a article that was automatically harvested before the website closed. All of the formatting and images have been removed and some text content may not have been fully captured correctly. The article is provided here for personal research and review and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of If you have queries or concerns about this article please email us