Redefining marriage in NZ: lessons for Oz

Carolyn Moynihan
20 August 2013
Reproduced with Permission

Yesterday new legislation redefining marriage as the "union of two people regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity" took effect in New Zealand, and 31 officially recognised weddings of same-sex couples took place. Some of them, predictably, were edia eventsm sponsored by radio stations and public institutions.

A lesbian couple had their ceremony on board a flight from Queenstown (where else?) to Auckland after winning a competition run by New Zealand's largely government owned national airline. Jesse Tyler Fergusson, a gay advocate and cast member of television show Modern Family was flown in from the US for the occasion.

Paul McCarthy and Trent Kandler from Newcastle, advertising themselves as the beginning of a wave of Australian same-sex couples wanting such rituals, had a ceremony hosted by Tourism NZ at Te Papa, the county's national museum. The government tourism agency paid for eight guests as well for the do, and burbled about boosting foreign weddings in this country by a 1000 or so.

I suppose the main lesson of the day for Aussies is that if your country changes the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples, things will move quickly from accommodation to official promotion, albeit with a commercial motive thrown in. It's legal, and if it can reap a few million dollars it's, well, patriotic. Think about the implications of that.

Last time it came up for a vote in the national legislature Australian politicians rejected by a large majority the attempt to mess with the meaning of marriage. But the return of Labour's Kevin Rudd to the job of Prime Minister has seen him making a bid for the pink vote, promising to introduce a federal bill to do just that.

Australians who accept that gays, like everyone else, should be able to live and love as they choose, but who wish to keep marriage as the institution that binds fathers and mothers to their own children, need to learn from New Zealand's experience if they want to win this culture war. Here are a few points.

Public opinion is not unstoppably evolving. When the "gay marriage bill" was launched in mid 2012 New Zealand Herald polling showed public support was about 63 percent. Over the next nine months support fell steadily and, three weeks before the final vote in parliament, stood at 49.6 percent while 48 percent of those polled wanted to keep marriage as between a man and a woman. The longer people had to consider the issue the more likely they were to swing against it. On the night the bill was passed, a poll taken during a TV3 current affairs show produced a "no" vote of 78 percent. It was the second biggest poll ever taken by the TV channel.

Keep reaching out to your constituency and the public at large to activate the silent majority. They are interested.

Build a united protect marriage campaign. Because the mainstream media all back the gay lobby, those defending marriage and the family need to pull together to make their point of view heard. This did not happen in New Zealand. The only really visible pro-family organisation, Family First, ran an effective campaign, commissioning polls, sending out press releases, mobilising a lot of people to sign a petition and make submissions. But the voices of the churches and other groups were muted or contradictory. Perhaps this is inevitable today but it's a great pity. Young adults skilled in using social media could help make up for some of the slack among their elders.

Talk about what marriage is, not about your beliefs. When you do get the chance to speak or write in public for goodness sake don't talk about what the Bible says or about your Christian conscience. Save that for later. Talk first about what marriage is and always has been: the only civil institution which unites children with their mum and dad. In the parliamentary debates I watched none of the handful of MPs speaking against the redefinition of marriage as an emotional union between "two people" articulated what was wrong with that, and how it relativises the rights and welfare of children.

Get the intellectuals on your side to wake up and start writing and speaking. The intelligentsia made a poor showing in New Zealand - on both sides. We have little in the way of conservative think tanks or academics who could claim space in national media to argue the case for marriage as a man-woman reality. Australia could surely do better.

Lobby your MPs, educate them and get them to front up. Most of the MPs who voted against the New Zealand bill did not show up at the House to speak against it. This was left to a handful of sincere Christians and to oddball New Zealand First leader Winston Peters (who did a great job, by the way, of arguing for a referendum). I have not examined Hansard, but what I saw of the debates left me with the impression that no one knew how to expose the claim that homosexual persons have a right to marry. There is now an abundance of excellent writing on this subject (much of it covered on this website) that can be used to brief pollies and spokespersons.

Nothing's inevitable except death and taxes. Australia could turn the tide of this international elite campaign to win public approval for homosexual relationships and to normalise homosexual behaviour. Refusing to go along with the fiction that marriage is nothing more than a committed sexual friendship will not turn the country into Iran or Russia. The running dogs of rampant liberalism will bark at you but who is going to boycott your goods or cut you out of their security alliance? Nobody. They don't care that much about gay rites.