A Few Thoughts on Marriage Equality

An appropriate response to calls for a referendum.

I was opposed to the Civil Union Bill, though not as much as I was opposed to its opposition. It obviously didn’t go far enough in removing unequal treatment by the law of New Zealanders on the basis of their sexuality. Opponents argued, among other things, that civil unions would pave the way for gay marriage – which, of course, it did. It’s frustrating that such incrementalism was necessary.

A quick glance at Kiwiblog provides a snapshot of the views of opponents of marriage equality. I was going to say that the snapshot was of caricatured exaggerations of the average opponent’s views, but sadly I don’t think I quite believe that. I pessimistically think that the kinds of things said there do represent the way that many New Zealanders think.

  • Marriage has always been between one man and one woman.
  • Gay Kiwis already have civil unions – what are they complaining about?
  • Terrible things happen to kids raised by gay couples.
  • Celebrants will be forced to act against their religious beliefs by performing gay marriages.
  • What’s next? Polygamy?


Underlying the majority of these views, often (but not always) explicitly, is a belief in Christian values and a desire for those values to be imposed on everyone via the machinery of the state – or at least to prevent a perceived negation of those values being imposed on everyone via the machinery of the state. NZ Conservative makes it explicit:

One of the problems we have in the West right now is that we think we can define our own reality. We say, marriage is no longer between a man and a woman – it is between two people of either sex, and we think we can make it so. Our Post Christian nationas have abolished God and seek to act in His place.

Also noting: “Marriage is not marriage unless it is made up of a man and a woman, so two men or two women could never marry each other, because then it’s not marriage.”

In my experience, that last bit is reflective of a new trend emerging in opponents of marriage equality. What used to be “don’t do it!” has become “you can’t do it”. You can’t do it, you see, because marriage is between a man and a woman no matter what the Government says, so you can have your piece of paper and pretend you’re married, but you’re not really.

It feels to me that this trend comes from a sense of inevitability about marriage equality. A sort of emotional self-inoculation in the face of what’s coming.

What I find interesting about it is the double-thinking required to keep it going. On one hand, the state shouldn’t redefine marriage. On the other hand, the state has no power to redefine marriage. Of course, not everyone holds the two thoughts in their head at the same time, but I like that opposition is coming from two such different and contradictory bases.

Finally, it’s nice to see Family First showing a little reasoned argument. They’re calling for political parties to declare where they stand on polygamous marriages. Some may scoff, but really, if there’s no tax incentive and all parties are consenting adults, it’s a logical extension of the move towards liberty and equality behind gay marriage. Most of the more compelling arguments for one apply the other.

And Family First realise this, in a moment of rare lucidity, and also know that while political parties may feel comfortable championing gay rights, they may not be so comfortable about declaring a pro-polygamy stance. Clever.

4 Comments A Few Thoughts on Marriage Equality

  1. Morgan Nichol

    My favourite thing is where the opponents say “the government should stay out of citizens’ bedrooms!”, well, yes, that’s pretty much what we’re asking for.

    The polygamy thing is interesting, I think it probably makes sense to legalise it, though in the communities where it’s currently practised (legally or not) it appears to have a negative impact on young men. It’s currently legal in ~50 countries.

    Polygamy is very traditional, and it’s inconsistent for Christians to have a problem with it, when it’s so clearly right there in the bible (so it’s consistent for them to have a problem with it). Abraham had at least 3 wives, and it goes on from there. It seems like it was really the Romans that had a problem with it, not the Christians until much later.

    What the marriage “traditionalists” really need to learn about is consent. They talk like it’s inevitable for a man to be able to marry an animal or a child if we ever allow them to marry a man, casually ignoring the simple fact that no one who isn’t completely insane thinks animals or children could give consent to that.

    I’m very troubled by the suggesting of incestuous relationships being on the slipper slope, but I wonder if consent is the saviour there as well – the power dynamics are too fucked up for anyone to be able to give free consent. Awkward, it makes my skin crawl, but why can’t adult siblings fuck or marry?

    1. Ryan Sproull

      Makes my skin crawl too, but you’re right that it’s another logical corollary. My first reaction is to say that we’ve evolved to find siblings unattractive and that any siblings who fall in romantic and sexual love with each other are broken in the head somehow. It’s instructive to feel that way, because it is the way that many people feel about same-sex relationships. It helps me imagine what those people feel and understand their words and motivations.

      If I ignore the skin-crawling and be more rational, I’d first suggest that such situations would be exceedingly rare for the reason mentioned above. I would also suggest that, as with parent-child incest, there’s a huge danger of grooming. An older sibling is often in a position of power over a younger sibling and could conceivably groom them to “consent” once above a certain age – which calls into question the whole notion of consent in the situation.

      I think that danger is real enough that the burden of proof in any legal recognition/sanction of incestuous marriages should fall on the couple. An extensive process of evaluation to prove that no coercion or grooming has occurred. Harsh for the hypothetical genuinely-in-love sibling couple, but necessary to prevent the more likely scenario.

      I don’t know. What do you think?

  2. chiz

    We find people unattractive if we grow up with them, even if they’ve been adopted in and aren’t biologically related to us. On the other hand if related people grow up separately then problems can arise. There have been cases overseas where couples have fallen in love, both being adoptees, and then subsequently discovering that they were related enough that they can’t marry. This is rare however.

  3. Steve Parkes

    I’ve linked a couple of times to this example on Public Address:


    I definitely think this couple should be allowed to marry.

    Obviously the issue of “the power dynamics are too fucked up for anyone to be able to give free consent” doesn’t apply here.

    Such situations would be rare, but morally, I can’t see why they shouldn’t be allowed. I agree with your suggestion that there should be some vetting of sibling marriages that wouldn’t apply to other types of marriage, for the reason you give of the likelihood of grooming or coercion in situations other than those where the couple did not know each other were siblings.

    As for polygamy, in its traditional form (usually, polyandry) it seems to be a formalising of sexist power relationships. As I understand it, the man (usually) has multiple partners (wives), but they are not themselves spouses of each other. But if we just mean multiple marriage, then yeah, why not?


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