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Nandor Tanczos's Civil Union Bill Speech

The following speech can also be found herewith an MP3 audio copy.

Civil Union Bill

Nandor Tanczos MP, Green Party Justice Spokesperson
Parliament - Second Reading, 2nd December 2004

The fight over the Civil Union bill is less about who can hitch up with who than who we are as a nation.

Are we a Christian nation or a pluralist state? Should law be based on morality or on rationality? Should the legislature respect equality and human rights or should we advantage some and disadvantage others?

Submitters to the select committee were civil and respectful. However, some of the opposition to the bill outside has been venomous and nasty. Civil Union supporters have been criticised for calling those opponents 'homophobic' but I think they miss the point. Maybe it isn't about fear of homo's as much as fear of losing control.

Because on the face of it, why would it upset anyone that two men or two women who love each other can make a public commitment and be recognised in law? Who does that diminish?

If being privileged above others is what makes a relationship valuable, then it will suffer from the presence of anything closely equivalent

But if its value is derived from its spiritual authority, the love that it embodies, and from the virtue of its form, then its value remains unaffected by the proximity of others.

I think that it is this genuine belief in the virtues of marriage that distinguishes Christians for Civil Unions from the predominantly Christian opposition.

The Civil Union Bill will not devalue marriage. It is not gay people who love each other that devalue marriage, but such things as radio shows and Reality TV that offer a bride as a prize.

Do opponents of the bill secretly believe that heterosexual marriage is not intrinsically advantageous, and that the presence of alternatives will make it less desirable? Do they think that good straight kids will start entering gay unions because the law now says they can? Do they think being gay is more interesting?

Or is it that they see their dominance of our social and political forms slipping away? The increasing plurality of our society is scary for those who have always paddled in the mainstream. They have not yet understood - there no longer is a mainstream. We have become a braided river.

I don't mean this unkindly. I am a man who has lived outside the mainstream for most of my life. A number of United Future MPs think that I should be disqualified from being an MP because of that, and they typify the view I am speaking of. I have an unshakeable faith which is different from theirs and which I am forbidden by law to fully practise. It would be wrong to demand that everyone else be bound by Rastafarian law. I am justified in demanding my own right to be Rasta.

That is the proper relationship between faith and State. The State should be a protector, not persecutor, of religion. But it is not the State's role to advantage one faith over another, or religion over any other philosophy.

The job of legislators is not to privilege any particular cultural practise, but to protect human rights, and cultural and ecological integrity. That does not include entrenching discrimination in the law.

The law should support committed long-term relationships because they promote health, strong communities and more happiness. There is no rational basis for excluding people from that because they are gay.

Even if it is true, as some assert, that gay and de facto relationships are less stable, why wouldn't we want to provide an opportunity for them to formally and publicly commit and have that commitment taken seriously by the law?

As it stands, the law says that a same sex couple may have casual sex, but may not have their long-term relationship recognised. I do not understand why some people see a moral imperative in maintaining that status quo.

But then I've never really understood why oppressing other people is seen as a Christian value by some.

The Bible does talk about homosexuality. It is a little unclear in places whether the problem is homosexuality per se, or promiscuity, but it certainly is condemned a few times.

I haven't counted, but probably about as many times as usury - the practise of lending money at interest. Usury is a genuinely iniquitous practise and avoidance of usury is one of the unique features of the Muslim banking system.

Consider the percentage of the average person's income spent servicing interest on debt. Interest on your mortgage (or your landlords mortgage if you pay rent), interest on bank loans to the businesses where you shop, interest on credit and on student loans. I have yet to see an MP fast to end usury.

As far as I can see, homosexuality is of insignificant concern to the Biblical prophets and to the Christ compared with their overwhelming condemnation of economic injustice and oppression of the poor. Yet while it would be unfair to say that among Christians opposition to the Civil Union Bill is inversely proportional to concern over social justice, there seems to be a rough fit.

Christianity was debased when it became the State religion of Rome, and continues to debase itself when it tries to align its interests with those of the State. This is a pluralist society, with a democratic and secular parliament. It is vital that we uphold and protect that.

In that context it was a dangerous and unwise course taken by the Catholic bishops yesterday in attempting to direct Catholics how to vote. If the Catholic Church wants to return to its past of wielding direct political power, it will find modern society considerably less malleable. And if the Catholic Church wants to intervene in the political process, it may tempt politicians to intervene in the affairs of the church.

I would like to finish by thanking the advisors to the committee and Tim Barnett for his excellent chairing. While his view has always been clear, he has made sure all sides had a go and all submitters were treated with respect. I contrast that with the chairing of his deputy, and I only make the point because of Mr Frank's public and unjustified criticism of Mr Barnett and the committee.

Mr Speaker, let us ensure that Aotearoa is a land that respects and values all its people. Let us pass this bill.


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