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Youth representatives come out to support marriage equality

Youth representatives come out to support marriage equality

by Anne Russell
March 11, 2013

Representatives from the youth wings of seven political parties held a press conference outside Parliament today to promote the Marriage Equality Bill. These included: Shaun Wallis of Young Nationals, Kieran Meredith of Young Labour, Izzy Lomax of Young Greens, Curwen Rolinson of NZ First Youth, Teaonui Mckenzie of the Young Maori Party, MANA spokesperson Ian Anderson, and Amy Richardson of ACT on Campus. The eighth representative, Damain Light of United Future, was unable to attend due to the fog in Wellington. The conference was introduced by Conrad Reyners, representing the Marriage Equality campaign. Various politicians were also present, including Jan Logie, Grant Robertson and Maryan Street. Louisa Wall and Tau Henare were unable to attend, the former due to her commitments to her electorate in Auckland.

Although there is undoubtedly some disagreement within each youth wing of Parliament, it is still rare for youth representatives to attain this level of consensus on a Bill. It perhaps falsifies the claims from NZ First and lobby groups such as Family First New Zealand that this bill is a controversial one. It has, after all, essentially piggy-backed the debate on the Civil Union Bill of 2005. The first reading of the Marriage Equality Bill passed 80 votes to 40, and it is unlikely that the ayes will decrease at the second reading on Wednesday.

Kieran Meredith of Young Labour.

The representatives from each party had different reasons for supporting the bill. Shaun Wallis claimed that the Young Nats have been at the front urging MPs to support the issue from Day One, but have had a difficult task negotiating with their own MPs, given that half the party voted against the bill on first reading. Although Wallis said that this difficulty was partly due to the comparative size of the party, working within a historically queerphobic party is likely to skew the vote somewhat; National almost unanimously voted against the legalisation of homosexuality in 1986. However, this level of youth consensus shows that attitudes to the queer community are slowly changing between generations. Although supporting the queer community is still a highly contentious issue in many areas, it seems largely regarded as fairly acceptable that they receive equal rights to civil institutions such as marriage. Whether or not the Young Nats' lobbying has convinced any of their MPs to change their position may become evident on Wednesday.

Shaun Wallis of the Young Nationals.

Amy Richardson of ACT on Campus.

Although the issue is a conscience vote, the Greens and Mana Party support marriage equality based on party policies of equality for the rainbow community. "The Mana movement supports equality for the poor and dispossessed; so for that reason, part of our takataapui or rainbow policy is marriage equality, and also an overhaul of adoption legislation," said Mana spokesperson Ian Anderson. Similar sentiments about family were also promoted by Teaonui Mckenzie. "The Maori Party believe that whānau form a strong community, and we cannot see how excluding whānau members from being given the opportunity to marry if they so wish will build a harmonious and inclusive society," he said.

Izzy Lomax of the Young Greens.

Teaonui Mckenzie of the Young Maori Party.

MANA Spokesperson Ian Anderson.

The NZ First representative Curwen Rolinson received much of the spotlight from the press gallery. NZ First has thus far voted unanimously voted against the Bill. Curiously, Rolinson said the main problem the party had with the Bill was how it had been enacted, and called for a referendum. "Progressive social change is important, but must be exercised by the will of the people…rather than necessarily being filtered through layers of temporarily empowered politicians or the strictures of party politics," said Rolinson. However, he later said that "[NZ First Youth] can't ask our MPs to support something that doesn't include a referendum." He added that NZ First do not do conscience voting but, like the Greens and Mana, are guided by party policy. It is, then, unclear how NZ First supporters of marriage equality have strategised to negotiate with their MPs.

Curwen Rolison of NZ First Youth.

The brevity of the conference unfortunately prevented an in-depth conversation about the particularities of the Bill itself and its significance for the queer community. The fragmented nature of news broadcasting can make it difficult to analyse how queer activism plays out, how queerphobia varies between MPs on particular issues, and which political issues receive priority in the halls of Parliament. However, it is clear that the likely passage of this Bill will represent a victory for the queer community, even though not each individual member will necessarily benefit from it.

The conference ended with each youth representative signing a Marriage Equality Certificate.

Click for big version.


Anne Russell is a Wellington-based journalist with a degree in political science and religious studies. Follow her on Twitter: @elvisfchrist.

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