Some of the speeches last night were just awesome. So I've gone and skimmed the draft transcript and selected the lines that I thought were some of the best of the entire evening.
I have had a reverend in my local electorate call and say that the gay onslaught will start the day after this bill is passed. We are really struggling to know what the gay onslaught will look like. We do not know whether it will come down the Pakuranga Highway as a series of troops, or whether it will be a gas that flows in over the electorate and blocks us all in. I also had a Catholic priest tell me that I was supporting an unnatural act. I found that quite interesting coming from someone who has taken an oath of celibacy for his whole life.
I also had a letter telling me that I would burn in the fires of hell for eternity. That was a bad mistake, because I have got a degree in physics. I used the thermodynamic laws of physics. I put in my body weight and my humidity and so on. I assumed the furnace to be at 5,000 degrees. I will last for just on 2.1 seconds. It is hardly eternity. What do you think?
Let me repeat to them now that all we are doing with this bill is allowing two people who love each other to have that love recognised by way of marriage. That is all we are doing. We are not declaring nuclear war on a foreign State. We are not bringing a virus in that could wipe out our agricultural sector for ever. We are allowing two people who love each other to have that recognised, and I cannot see what is wrong with that for neither love nor money. I just cannot.
But I give a promise to those people who are opposed to this bill right now. I give you a watertight guaranteed promise. The sun will still rise tomorrow. Your teenage daughter will still argue back to you as if she knows everything. Your mortgage will not grow. You will not have skin diseases or rashes, or toads in your bed. The world will just carry on. So do not make this into a big deal. This bill is fantastic for the people it affects, but for the rest of us, life will go on.
I simply do not believe that it is right to determine an issue that affects only minorities by way of a referendum. If that was the case, I doubt New Zealand would have given women the right to vote when this country did, nor would this country have legalised abortion when it did, nor would this country have decriminalised sex between two consenting males when it did. Minority rights issues are not referendum issues.
I want to briefly talk also about the question of children, because it is a common theme that some opponents have been raising. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that every child must have a mother and a father. I know that it is a touchy subject, but as someone who actually grew up without a mother and without a father, I think I am somewhat qualified to speak on the issue. A child does need both male and female influences in their life, but those influences do not necessarily have to come from their biological parents. What is most important is that a child is raised in a loving and caring environment. What is most important is that the people who are raising that child give them a home that is safe, warm, educating, and nurturing. If that environment just so happens to be a same-sex marriage, then that child is just as fortunate as every other loved and cared for child.
This bill is also about inclusion. Quite simply we will not succeed as a country or society if we continually find reasons to exclude people. The only place that takes us is division and hatred. Why on earth would we want to stop a couple who love each other and who want to make a commitment to one and other from doing that? Why would we want to exclude some people from a cherished social institution?
Nothing about this legislation will affect anyone else’s marriage. Husbands will still call their wives their wife and vice versa. I will let you all in on a secret, we have all been calling our partners husbands for years. Normally it is when I am being told off.
I did have a speech prepared, but that speech shot it to bits. Here is the bona fides on the New Zealand First referendum of the 1990s. The National Party said no to a bill. That is why we went to a referendum, and when we went to a referendum, 82 percent of the country said: “No, Winston. We don’t believe in you any more.” That is what it said. It never went through caucus. It never went through caucus. And that speech that I heard tonight was the biggest shyster speech I have ever heard—the biggest shyster speech I have ever heard.
But I tell you what: that speech tonight is nothing more than pandering to the 10 percent on either side of this argument. It is nothing more than pandering to those racist, redneck people who just love to get on the email.
I want to say that I have been appalled with some of the behaviour of those for the bill and against the bill, because I for one do not think that those who are against the bill are homophobic just because they are voting against it. It is their right to vote against it, and I will back my colleagues who vote against it all the way. I just do not agree with them.
If it does belong to the Church, as I have been told by so many people on the email, then why do we have legislation outlining who can and who cannot? If there was no legislation, I would back the Church 100 percent. But it is not theirs. It actually belongs to the Government. It actually belongs to this Parliament. It is a creature now of Parliament. It is not a creature any more of either the Bible or the Church.
I want to acknowledge Chris Auchinvole and Paul Hutchison. They have shown us in this debate the true power of conscience. When Paul said: “I … cannot construct a strong enough intellectual, moral, health, or … spiritual argument against it.”, he struck a chord with so many New Zealanders, because he showed us openness and he showed us compassion for people. Our Parliament can be very proud that this vote is actually less about political divides but more about religious and generational divides.
I remember travelling to Auckland’s North Shore to protest against one of our opponents, Pastor Richard Flynn, who called publicly for homosexuals like me to be put to death. Over the years I have campaigned hard for the right of our communities not to be outsiders anymore and to assume a full place in New Zealand society. With every new reform, the same group uses the same strategy, raising fears of terrible consequences that always fail to materialise. There would be few New Zealanders today who would support re-criminalising sex between men. The cost of being outsiders is enormous. The stigma associated with our “inferior” status is associated with substantially higher rates of suicide, depression, HIV risk, violence, and other risks to our health and well-being.
Their problem with this bill is that they believe that we gay and lesbian people are morally inferior. They do not want to include us as full participants in New Zealand society. They recognise correctly what full legal equality—this signal—means, and they do not like it. That is why we have seen people with placards declaring that gay people are mentally ill and less than human. That is why we have seen Family First’s campaign, firstly, of fear and misinformation and, latterly, of stand-over tactics and blackmail. That is why we have seen Catholic Action, just like Richard Flynn, writing to all MPs and telling us that homosexuals are worthy of death and then describing in great detail the eternal agony we should expect to experience in hell. They have tried to attract more people to their cause by scaring people with imaginary consequences—people will marry their pets, ministers will be thrown in prison, and people will not be able to call each other husband and wife anymore! Just like every time before, these fears will not be realised. The consequences of this bill will be that same-sex couples will marry. Transsexual people will no longer have to divorce. Prejudice and violence will be undermined.
The privilege we have to be in this House is counterbalanced by the need to stand up and be counted. I am one of a handful of members who was here in the very early days of these debates. After three decades and 10 Parliaments, I have had time to reflect—to reflect on what I said and to reflect on what I did. If I knew then what I have since learnt, I would have acted differently. I see this as a debate more about human rights, predicated on the basis that we are all entitled to live our lives to the fullest extent of human happiness, while respecting the rights and beliefs of others. I believe all New Zealanders should be free to pursue their own happiness.
Te Ururoa Flavell
In 1888 the Supreme Court of New Zealand made a decision that has been described as “doubtful legally and deplorable socially”. That doubtful and deplorable decision was to reject the customary marriages that had existed mai rānō, and to assume that the marriage law of England took precedence. In fact, the colonial law from another land was considered of such importance that the children of Māori customary marriages were then described as “illegitimate”,
So when opponents of this bill criticise a change to the definition of marriage as contravening our sacred traditions, I would have to say “Whose traditions are we talking about?”
A tradition is a convention, a belief, or a behaviour that stands the test of time. A tradition is the institutional memory of a society. It is not to be cast off or cast away quickly or easily, because it is the touchstone of a value that perhaps younger minds may not fully understand, yet enter into, because it is there. Traditions are what we use to guide people, I believe, into the things of life that have been proven to work.
I know there are strong religious veins in the Pacific community, and I respect that and the views that they have, but many young, gay Pacific Islanders have found this debate difficult. Many have grown up and maintain strong religious beliefs. They have told me one of the hardest things in the public debate has been hearing that the God that they worship seems to see them differently. My God does not. I hope that our community can embrace that there are many in our families who on a daily basis struggle to be openly who they are.
At one of my electorate meetings a highly intelligent, crusty, salt of the earth farmer urged me to vote against the bill, but he later joked that over the last few generations the sequence of events has gone like this: in the first instance parents such as himself used to tell their daughters not to come home with someone from a different religion, then not to come home with someone from a different race, then definitely not to come home single and pregnant, and, today, then not to come home with someone from the same sex, let alone marry them. He encapsulates the fact that society has evolved enormously within a few generations, just as marriage has been evolving as a civil and religious institution throughout human history.
As a former specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist, extremely poignant experiences for me were the rare occurrences where at the birth of a baby, when the parents instinctively asked: “Is it a boy or a girl?”, I had been literally unable to tell them. This has been because of ambiguous genitalia or a unique physical abnormality. It may take some weeks to fully assess a child, have genetic testing carried out, and assign a sex. Even that may be later changed. This illustrates the dramatic new knowledge available in the modern world to better understand the spectrum of physical, genetic, and social expression of gender and sexuality that was simply not possible in the past. I ask anyone, on either side of the debate, whether they would not hope that their newborn could be brought up in a society that is both tolerant and as caring about their child’s status and aspirations as any other child’s—a society that is inclusive, fair, and committed to respecting one another.
In the first reading of this bill I said that despite trying hard, I could not construct a strong enough intellectual, moral, health, or even spiritual reason to vote against it. I am now quite convinced that, at the end of the day, the strength of any human union is about love, tolerance, giving, forgiving, sharing, inclusiveness, commitment, and fairness irrespective of gender. These are universal qualities that have no boundaries.
We have faced many issues of conscience in our nation’s relatively short history, and I think we have grown stronger by facing them together, not always as adversaries but as fellow members of a small and empathetic nation that often gives fine examples to the rest of the world.
As an older person I would ask that the younger generation—epitomised, of course, in my colleague Nikki Kaye—show some patience and consideration for those of my generation who will need time to adjust to a change that will be very, very new to us. By the same token we cannot move forward as a nation if we older ones ignore or reject the heartfelt pleas for respect by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and the younger brigade. We need their acceptance as they are entitled to our acceptance.
The Marriage Act has since 1955 said that celebrants can do that, presumably to protect celebrants from being forced to marry heterosexual couples of different religions or—heaven forbid—marry somebody who was divorced.
And although I respect the beliefs of those who oppose the bill on religious grounds, I strongly believe that although it is the role of the State to protect freedom of religious expression—and this bill reaffirms that—it is not the role of the State to uphold one group’s religious beliefs over another’s.
This debate is not about special rights for some; it is, in fact, the very opposite. It is about acknowledging that something that used to be seen as so scary, immoral, and different that my mother felt compelled to be an active member of a group called HUG—Heterosexuals Unafraid of Gays—is, in fact, completely normal.
Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex people will not be any better or worse at marriage than us straights. They will face the same challenges, the highs and lows, the successes, and the failures.
My late grandmother always had a wonderfully uncomplicated approach to life. At one point she became quite taken with Brendan, the partner of one of my best friends from high school, Peter. She told me that she would not be at all disappointed if Brendan were to become her grandson-in-law. I said to her “But, Grandma, he’s gay.”, to which she responded “Well, your grandfather wasn’t the easiest person to live with, but you make marriage work.”
The full video of the speeches can be found on the ParliamentTV YouTube channel.
And the full transcript of the reading.