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The Column: Labour Attacks NZ's Foundations

The Column: Labour Attacks New Zealand's Foundations

Weekly Column by Dr Muriel Newman

While the Government’s lack of investment into essential infrastructure is holding the country back – with motorists wasting time and money snarled up in traffic congestion, property owners battling Resource Management Act costs and delays, and Kiwis across the board facing power shortages and rising electricity prices – Labour is busy putting its legislative effort into the gay agenda.

Members of Parliament will soon be asked to vote on the Civil Union Bill, which seeks to provide homosexual couples with a contract akin to marriage.

This is the fifth Bill Labour has introduced during its term of office that many consider to be a State invasion into private affairs. A sixth – to widen adoption laws to allow de-facto and gay couples to become eligible parents – is still on the drawing board.

The first of these Bills is the Property (Relationships) Amendment Bill, which introduced the same legal property protection to couples that choose not to marry as to those who do marry. In doing so, the Bill undermines the value of marriage: why bother to marry in New Zealand when you can get the benefits of marriage by simply living together?

The second, the Families Commission Bill – also promoted by United Future – widened the legal definition of family from being a married mum, dad and the kids, to include almost any grouping of people.

The third, the Care of Children Bill – again supported by United Future – will replace the Guardianship Act, making it far easier for new heterosexual or gay partners to become guardians of children.

Despite United Future’s claims to the contrary, the Labour Government has refused to introduce Shared Parenting into this Bill: Shared Parenting would involve creating a rebuttable presumption that just as two parents are equal in their responsibilities to their children before a relationship break-up, so too should they be equal after separation – unless proved otherwise.

If introduced, this measure would enable those children who are the victims of family breakdown to retain their right to have both parents actively involved in their lives, instead of the current situation where the majority of non-custodial parents – usually fathers – drift out of their lives: more children currently lose a father through separation or divorce in New Zealand every three months than lost a father during the entire period of World War II.

The fourth Bill, which widened the accessibility of the Domestic Purposes Benefit, only passed with United Future’s support. This Bill made the DPB – the benefit which pays women to separate from the father of their child if things are not going well (instead of encouraging them to put their children first and try to work through their difficulties) – readily available until the youngest child is 18 years old.

The proposed Civil Union Bill, which the Government is now advocating, will provide same-sex couples with a civil contract that has an equal status to marriage. This Bill is being pushed despite existing legal entitlements that provide the official protections being called for by the activists promoting this law change.

The fundamental issues MPs must consider when deciding whether or not to support legislative change are, firstly, whether there is a problem that the proposed law will fix – and, in this instance, that doesn’t appear to be the case. The second thing to consider is the impact of any unintended consequences.

In Scandinavian countries, where civil union type legislation has been in place for over a decade, there is mounting evidence that its effect has been to diminish the distinctiveness and significance of marriage. With the traditional nuclear family already under serious threat in this country, a law change that could further undermine marriage is a cause of deep concern.

New Zealand is one of the industrialised world’s leaders in family breakdown; if present trends continue then, by the 2010, half of European and three quarters of Maori infants under 12 months old will live in families where there are no fathers.

For these children, the consequences are disastrous: all the evidence tells us that children being raised by a single parent on welfare are more likely to be abused, to experience poverty and deprivation, to drop out of school, to become involved in crime, and to engage in destructive behaviours – including substance abuse, early sexual activity, or suicide. In comparison, children brought up in married families – often described as the most successful child-rearing institution ever invented – are able to avoid most of these pitfalls.

In Western societies, marriage has traditionally been the norm for domestic relationships – the bedrock of social stability – providing for the nurturing of children and the well being of families. While many marriages experience some difficulties, research clearly shows that those couples who work at them and through them, tend to live happier, more successful, and prosperous lives than their counterparts who divorce or never marry.

The essence of marriage is commitment: marriage entails a long-term, binding commitment to a husband or wife, and to any children the couple may have. In return for the loyalty, companionship, security, and all of the other rights of marriage, comes responsibility.

Those who choose not to marry generally do so because they are not prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with making a binding commitment. It is the retreat from that commitment that produces the sad fallout that all too often accompanies de-facto and casual relationships – loneliness and depression, addictive behaviours, violence, ill health, loss of confidence, poor motivation – and, while they may be prepared to subject themselves to this, the bigger question is whether an adult should be prepared to put their children through it.

While socialist politicians appear comfortable seeing the seeds of family disintegration germinate – since the family offers the greatest defence against State control – those who oppose socialism should cast political correctness aside and support marriage in order to arrest the decline of the nuclear family.

Since Labour has been in power, ACT has steadfastly opposed each of the anti-family Bills that it has introduced. The Government intends that the Civil Union Bill will, however, be a conscience vote. Because its effect would undoubtedly be to further undermine marriage, I do not believe I can support it.

I stand for marriage – not in a moral or religious sense, but in a pragmatic one. Knowing the multitude of benefits that marriage brings, to children in particular – as well as to couples, their wider families and their communities – I believe that the only responsible course of action is to support efforts to strengthen marriage, and to oppose changes that would weaken it.

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