Redefining marriage is unnecessary, writes former MP
The debate on same-sex marriage lacks context, because its
promoters have failed to take into account the equal rights
already established in New Zealand law for same-sex couples.
Everyone remembers the passing of the Civil Unions Act in
late 2004 because of the publicity it generated. However, the
Civil Unions Act was followed by a companion Relationships
(Statutory References) Act in early 2005 - the Relationships
Act. It was passed by Parliament without fanfare and little
mention in the media. As a result, it has been missing from
this debate because its purpose and legal effects are largely
unknown to New Zealanders. Yet it is of crucial importance.
So what did the Relationships Act do? It amended over 150
Acts of Parliament to add, after every reference to
''marriage'', the words ''civil union and de facto'' so that
there would be a complete and perfect legal equality between
marriage, civil unions and heterosexual or homosexual de
facto relationships. It means that all couples, in any of
these relationships, have exactly the same rights and
entitlements under New Zealand law, with the possible
exception of the adoption law. Therefore, nothing is to be
gained by redefining marriage to include same-sex couples,
since equal rights have already been granted to those
couples. That battle was fought and won in 2005!
In 1893, New Zealand was the first nation in the world to
grant women the vote, but we did not do that by redefining
men to include women, but rather by recognising the equality
of women. In the same way, the Relationships Act does not
alter the definition of marriage but, rather, recognises the
equality of same-sex unions, be they civil union or de facto,
at law. The mantra of ''marriage equality'' needs to be
viewed against that background.
In my view, that mantra does not stand up to scrutiny because
all of us can surely agree that a marriage between a man and
a woman is biologically different from a union between two
women or two men. Just as women and men are different, so
those relationships are different (de facto relationships are
different again because they exist in fact but involve
couples who are not married or in civil unions). Let us not
forget that the law in New Zealand does permit homosexuals to
marry, and some have.
Recognition of the reality that women and men are
biologically different does not constitute discrimination,
inequality or a denial of rights. We separate women and men
for sport and boys and girls for sport and education. Many
secondary schools, for example, are single sex, but that does
not mean that the boys are not the equal of the girls or vice
versa. Our laws against discrimination are founded on the
principle of ''different but equal''.
Consequently, although it is illegal to discriminate on the
basis of difference in gender, nationality, race, religion,
marital status and so on in employment, housing, voting and
the like, the law also recognises difference in many ways.
Indeed, in our language we always, without exception, give
different names to things that are different because life
would become very confusing if a rake was called a spade or
Marriage is too important to the stability of our society and
the raising of children to risk such a radical change to its
traditional definition without sound reason and, in my view,
no such reason has been advanced. Marriage can result in
lifelong loving relationships between the spouses. It remains
the best and most stable environment in which to raise
children. It has stood the test of time and is common to all
cultures and nations.
Like democracy, it is not perfect, but it is better than all
the other models. It would be greatly strengthened if
governments invested in the delivery of pre-marriage
preparation and post-wedding marriage enrichment programmes
by non-government organisations, because marriage underpins a
successful society, while the root cause of much poverty and
delinquency arises from casual, unstable or broken
relationships. The Relationships Act created ''relationships
equality'' and nothing more is necessary or desirable. The
redefinition of marriage Bill should not proceed.
- Gordon Copeland is a former member of Parliament who
was in the House in 2004-05 when the Civil Unions and
Relationships (Statutory References) Acts were passed. He was
a United Future party list MP from 2002 until he resigned
from the party in 2007.