Karl du Fresne: What makes marriage unique
BreakingViews.co.nz 2 Sep 2012
Few political issues in my lifetime have been more divisive than the Homosexual Law Reform Bill of 1986. It didn’t quite cause the violent convulsions that shook New Zealand during the 1981 Springbok tour, but the debate was almost as polarising.
To many people, legalising homosexual acts seemed a radical, dangerous step. Yet 26 years later, only a hard-core minority would still insist the country made a terrible mistake.
Now fast-forward to 2004. That was when Parliament passed the Civil Unions Act, giving same-sex couples the right to formalise their relationship in a legally sanctioned ceremony that was effectively marriage in all but name.
Considering the furore that had gripped New Zealand in 1986, the Civil Unions Act passed with relatively little fuss. Of the mainstream Churches, only the Catholics put up much resistance. Otherwise most opposition came from Pentecostal-style Churches – notably the Destiny Church, which organised the memorable, black-shirted “Enough is Enough” march on Parliament.
Certainly, senior Labour politicians gave that impression. Prime minister Helen Clark was at pains to stress in 2004 that marriage was “only for heterosexuals” and that the Marriage Act would remain unchanged. Her statement was clearly intended to reassure people that civil unions would not be a precursor to gay marriage.
Yet here we are, eight years down the track, and Parliament is about to debate a bill permitting same-sex partners to marry. You could conclude that Ms Clark and Co were being duplicitous in 2004, but it’s just as likely that the gay agenda has since taken on a political momentum of its own.
And many would say, where’s the problem? Few social institutions are static and immutable. Without change, society could never progress.
Consider this: all rights except the right to adopt and to use the word “marriage” were granted to same-sex couples in 2004. Like Helen Clark, I thought that settled the issue, but clearly it wasn’t enough. Gay activists weren’t content with marriage in everything but name; they wanted to confer on same-sex relationships the ultimate legitimacy that only the word “marriage” could provide.
Propagandists for same-sex marriage argue that marriage has taken different forms in different times and places and that what we now call marriage is a relatively recent concept. Therefore, they reason, why get agitated if it undergoes further change?
That is its essence. Change that and marriage becomes something else. Many would argue that its uniqueness would be destroyed and its importance fundamentally and irrevocably diminished. And while I’m not a conspiracy theorist, I can see why some traditionalists see same-sex marriage as part of a broader attack on the family and traditional morality.
The intent, it seems, is to convince us that marriage was always a bit of a sham anyway, and thus hardly worth bothering to preserve it in its present form. But if that’s the case, one might ask, why are same-sex couples so eager to share its benefits?
I have no desire to see gay people denied the right to a full and happy life, but I believe they achieved that with the Civil Unions Act. We were told so at the time.
Karl blogs at www.karldufresne.blogspot.co.nz. First published in the Nelson Mail and Manawatu Standard.