Kawarau Bridge Bungee Jumping, New Zealand. Helena Jinx / Flickr
In the marriage debate, all eyes recently have been on Ireland, where a referendum has given the government a mandate to legalise same-sex marriage, and the United States, where a bare majority of the Supreme Court has saved holdout states the trouble of asking their citizens by finding a right to gay marriage in the Constitution.
We have noted on this blog a number of legal cases and controversies related in one way or another to the legalisation of same-sex marriage in some US states and in Britain.
But what has been the broader effect in the UK, and in other countries that have taken this step? Is there evidence of the harm to democracy, to free speech and religious liberty that dissenting judges pointed to in the recent US Supreme Court decision?
In the first of three assessments, I find that little seems to have changed in New Zealand, but there are signs of where freedoms may be reduced and new forms of discrimination arise as time goes on.
Last month the New Zealand Supreme Court ruled in favour of a family advocacy group threatened with deregistration as a charity. The public servants on the country’s Charities Board moved against Family First New Zealand during the debate that preceded legalisation of same-sex marriage in April 2013 – a debate in which Family First played a leading role in opposing the redefinition of marriage.
The board’s explanation made it clear that its members disagreed with FFNZ’s defence of marriage as an exclusively man-woman institution, although the reason for removing their charitable status was that they were involved in primarily “political” activity on a “controversial” issue. Even when the Supreme Court ruled, in a case involving Greenpeace, that political activity could also be charitable, the board refused to withdraw its decision against the family group, forcing them to go to court to argue their case. The board has been ordered to review its decision.
Despite its apparently happy ending for the cause of free speech on the nature of marriage, this episode has shown that at least some government officials in New Zealand feel justified in punishing dissenters from the politically correct line enshrined by this country’s “gay marriage” law.
Politically, overt opposition is suicidal.
During the public hearings on the legislation a young woman who spoke against it was treated with impatience and disdain by some members of the parliamentary committee, making it a gruelling experience. Another young woman, a member of the Youth Parliament in that year, had the rest of the members walk out on her speech arguing against the law change.
No-one seems to have been sacked for criticising same-sex marriage, but it is not clear how many marriage celebrants (other than those exempted in virtue of their mandate from approved religious institutions) have given up the work rather than risk being approached to officiate for same-sex couples.
A religious couple who operate a bed and breakfast, and who refused to provide a double bed room to a lesbian couple (but did offer an alternative), were complained about to the Human Rights Commission. However, it transpired that there is an exemption in the Human Rights Act for accommodation provided under one’s own roof.
Perhaps the strongest effect so far is within churches. Last year two Anglican priests left the church after its general synod passed a motion committing the church to blessing same-sex relationships by 2016. One of them, Michael Hewat, said that Motion 30 would prove to be a “disaster” for church unity and that by 2016 “the floodgates will open”. A Presbyterian church in Wellington which has long been a gay stronghold has refused to comply with a national directive not to conduct same-sex weddings.
Elsewhere, the new, official status of same-sex relationships has given a boost to the gender revolution. The Ministry of Education recently issued advice to schools that they should consider offering “gender-neutral” uniforms to students, “review toilet spaces”, allow same-sex partners at balls, and reconsider grouping students by gender in sports classes to help a more diverse range of students “feel safe”. What children are hearing in sex-ed classes about gender and relationships is largely unknown, but the new directive gives a clue.
Kiwis tend to be more politically passive than the citizens of bigger countries. They are more secularised than most Western societies. Revolutions tend to happen without a lot of noise – but that does not make them any less revolutionary, as we are likely to discover as times goes on.
Carolyn Moynihan is deputy editor of MercatorNet.
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