Niu Sila / New Zealand has always prided itself in its supposed history of social equality. In 1883, it was the first nation to grant women the right to vote, and for decades was proud of its egalitarian society (albeit a facade). But Niu Sila has come a distant 13 in the world to pass same-sex marriage into law.
I’ve previously written about same-sex marriage when the debate was raging in Amelika / America, at the time. And since reigniting here in Niu Sila, my views have essentially stayed the same, but now tinged with a view that there was a possible missed opportunity.
As then and now I believe in a secular society, where we are all equal under the law. As then and now I support same-sex couples being recognised under the law as equals to hetero-sexual couples. As then in Amelika and now in Niu Sila, there has been great public debate and sometimes very divissive. But unlike then, I now think equality under the law could have been achieved in a different way so as to avoid.
I’m not going to get into the religious arguments, but argue from the view that we live in a secular society. Essentially, a secular State needs to treat every citizen equal. So the argument goes, if hetero-sexual couples can get married, why can’t same-sex couples? Shouldn’t all citizens, gay or straight, have the same rights under the law of the secular State? But the main reason marriage is seen as a right, is because the State regualtes it.
Since 2005, Niu Sila legalised civil unions. Back then there was an even greater public debate. The Labour-led Government brought the law in. Many Pacific voters have since stopped supporting Labour, the traditional political party of Pacific communities. Civil unions are legally recognised relationships between same-sex and hetero-sexual couples, with almost the same rights as married couples.
Skip to 2013, and it’s a Labour MP who has pushed for this same-sex marriage law. The political cost by Pacific voters may yet be seen in next year’s general elections.
But it’s this civil unions that I think could have been the way forward this time round. As I said above, if the State stopped regulating marriage, it would no longer be seen as a right. If the State only regulate civil unions, which is open to everyone, then all the moral arguments for and against would largely not be needed. Civil unions for everyone would restrict the State to just registering relationships – people would then be free to celebrate their union in whatever fashion they want – a Christian marriage, a dinner at a restaurant, in a Hindu temple, or a BBQ at the beach.
Although my suggestion (and it’s a suggestion put forward and articulated far better by others) will still not satisfy some – as seen in the arguments made by the opponents to civil unions back in 2005. Those opponents argue marriage, whether it’s a civil union or under any other name, is the foundations of families – families which are the building blocks of society. Allowing, as the argument goes, same-sex couples to be recognised as having rights to raise a family will be detrimental to society, as familes need a mother and a father.
But at the end of the day, civil unions for all, will get the secular State out of what is a moral/religious social institution, and will be able to apply the law equally, irrespective of sexual orientation. Furthermore, civil unions will allow religious groups to “take back” their institution of marriage and not have the State redefine that institution according to secular values.
And lastly, by removing the State from regulating marriage, this puts the ball back into the court of our churches to find ways of influencing society with Christian values, without using the State mechanisms to do it. Because I think that’s the real area the church should be looking at. It should be self examining, and see why marriage is no longer seen as a religious institution, with all the moral Chrisitan values it once had attached. Because, then the Church will see it has failed to get its message out and failed to stay relevant in todays every changing society.