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Soapbox 0050: Queering the pitch

Queering the pitch

Matthew Thomas

Soapbox 0050

You may not have noticed it, but a minor feud has been running on Scoop lately about the rights of same-sex couples.

The argument started, unsurprisingly, with a statement from Graham Capill, leader of the Christian Heritage Party. On Tuesday, he expressed his distaste for the idea of homosexual couples being allowed to adopt children. And he decried as a `lack of moral leadership' the support of both Jenny Shipley and Helen Clark for the legalization of such adoptions.

Mr Capill went on to suggest that same-sex couples adopting children would `destroy the traditional family unit'. Quite how this would happen he didn't make clear, and nor did he explain why destroying the traditional family unit would necessarily be a bad thing.

But it is the rest of Mr Capill's statement which is the most invidious. He gave the Hero Parade a ritualistic boot, and then said that Shipley and Clark have been `endorsing promotion of degeneracy'. The obvious implication here is that homosexuality can be classified as `degeneracy'; which not only implies that all homosexuals were once heterosexuals (before they `degenerated', so to speak), but also that homosexuality is worse than heterosexuality.

Here Mr Capill is on very sticky ground, and he knows it. It's been a long time since homosexuality was decriminalized, and that move isn't likely to be reversed any time soon. What's more, since 1993 the Human Rights Act has prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But, you might well ask, how could Mr Capill possibly have any other view, when the Bible is quite clear on the matter that homosexuality is evil?

Well I'm not a Biblical scholar, but the Bible's apparently clear criticism of homosexuality may not be all that it appears. Indeed, there's a compelling case for arguing that the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts criticized homosexual prostitution and rape, not homosexuality itself, and that these passages were misinterpreted -- either accidentally or deliberately -- by later translators.

Presbyterian minister David Clark, for one, is of the view that homosexuals should be accepted in the community. Mr Clark said in Scoop on Wednesday that `Jesus was condemned by loud religious voices for welcoming all people; if we are condemned for accepting gay and lesbian people on equal terms, then so be it'. And the Labour Party's homosexual/bisexual/transsexual branch, Rainbow Labour, also weighed in, saying that Graham Capill's reaction was `the sign of a desperate man'.

But this is a side issue, really, from the original question of whether same-sex and other de facto couples should be allowed to adopt children. Personally, I'm annoyed that these two groups are being lumped together. While I think same-sex couples should be allowed to adopt children, I would think that Mr Capill is quite right to oppose de facto couples' claimed right to do the same.

I don't have much sympathy for de facto couples seeking the same sort of rights as those enjoyed by married couples. For all intents and purposes, marriage in New Zealand is much more of a civil and legal institution than a religious one. In return for enduring the legal constraints of marriage, married couples receive privileges -- such as higher student allowances, for example, and the right to adopt children. De facto couples, as far as I can make out, are wanting the privileges without abiding by the constraints. And I don't see why this is justified.

But this position of mine has one major inconsistency: same-sex couples are always de facto couples, for the simple reason that they cannot be legally married in New Zealand. If you accept that homosexuality is legitimate, this restriction on their getting married doesn't make any sense, but it seems the New Zealand voting public still isn't comfortable with the idea of same-sex couples enjoying any legal status.

For this reason, I am pleased to see Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley reportedly expressing their support for the legalization of same-sex marriages. What Mr Capill sees as a `lack of moral leadership', I would see as an excellent display of moral leadership from both leaders. But, unfortunately, that doesn't mean the idea will fly with the public for a number of years yet. In the meantime, Mr Capill and others like him will no doubt continue their anti-homosexual crusade.

Three years ago, Graham Capill was co-leader of the Christian Coalition, which only just failed to get the five percent of the party vote it needed to get into Parliament. During one of the leaders' debates on TV1, interviewer Ian Fraser suggested to Mr Capill that the absence of any mention of homosexuality from the Coalition's manifesto only showed that they were `too clever to mention it'. Mr Capill couldn't help but quip, `Perhaps we are'. In those three words, I believe, the Coalition lost the votes it needed to get into Parliament. And personally, I'm pleased to see that Mr Capill hasn't learned his lesson.


Copyright (C) 1999 Matthew Thomas (mpt @ mailandnews . com).


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