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.