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August 6, 2012 | by  | in Opinion |
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Political Porn With Hamish

Trend-Watch: Members’ Bills

They’re all the rage at the moment, aren’t they? Even before the drawing of Louisa Wall’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, a number of other members bills have attracted significant media attention.

Sue Moroney’s extension to paid parental leave, Holly Walker’s lobbying disclosure bill and Te Ururoa Flavell’s Gambling (Gambling Harm Reduction) Amendment Bill have all provoked discussion—and not necessarily on the contents of the bills themselves.

As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, much of the media’s focus being on who is voting for which bill rather than the bills’ contents. This obsession with “who” began with the alcohol age question and gained momentum when Peter Dunne indicated he’ll be voting with the opposition parties when it comes to “Mondayising” and parental leave.

Louisa Wall’s bill to extend the definition of marriage is drawing similar attention into the who, despite the vote being several weeks away. Colin Craig, ever opportunistic, has seized the moment to be the leader of those against. An attempt to raise his profile, he knows that the focus is more on “the who” than “the what”.

But what about the what? What exactly is this bill about? And why?

I support moves to end discrimination, so I am supportive of this Bill. I’m not so supportive, however, of the state and, by association, politicians defining marriage.

I would be much more excited if we have a proposal that would see the state get out of categorising relationships in the first place; let’s not forget that there are marriage celebrants out there who would marry same- sex couples if they could. The issue to begin with has been the regulation of marriage by the state.

I’m much more supportive of proposals whereby the state perhaps keeps a “register” and if couples want to be married, that’s something for them to organise with whomever they chose, whether that be a church, secular institution or individual.

This, of course, won’t happen, as it would be very difficult for New Zealand remove itself from marriage due to implications internationally. For example, many residency visas are issued to the non-citizen spouse in the case of married couples with different nationalities. As such, other nations most likely wouldn’t recognise the form of state regulation I’m advocating.

So, in the current environment, one needs to support the Bill if they’re opposed to the discrimination same-sex couples face. But we must not get caught up in thinking that marriage represents the end of this discrimination.

I have concerns that people might associate same-sex marriage as equal rights when society is still not at that stage. We will still have a situation where civil union partners have fewer rights when it comes to adoption than de facto heterosexual couples regardless of whether the civil union is between individuals of different or the same sex.

We must also not let continue allowing civil unions to fade into a status considered subservient to marriage. Marriage, whether rightly or wrongly, is associated with religion, despite the ability for a ceremony to be performed in a secular fashion. At the 2006 census, over a third of New Zealanders said they’re non-believers. It’s important we keep open a route for people to celebrate their love and commitment through an institution that has never been associated with the church. Individuals should not be faced with a choice in having to sacrifice rights in favour of not using the term “marriage” to define their relationship.

So let’s not lose focus on what this Bill is about. It’s not about “redefining marriage”, it’s about extending the rights and privileges certain couples may enjoy to all couples if they so choose.

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