Today marks the first reading of the Marriage Equality Bill sponsored by Louisa Wall. The Bill was drawn from the Ballot on July 26th and since that time there has been increasing debate and discussion around the fundamental question of what constitutes marriage. As a Māori lesbian woman with six (well grounded and secure!) children the question is very simple and has been articulated with both strength and dignity by Louisa and those who are a part of the conversation promoting the Bill. It is about peoples fundamental right to marry, to commit to a lifelong relationship and to have their relationship acknowledged in all levels of society. All people have that right. It is not only a right for straight people no matter what fundamentalist and other social conservatives seem to want us to believe.
The ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ platform is extremely weak but continues to be the dominant (oppressive) argument in opposition. There are some vague references to the undermining of family values, the negative impact on children and the potential for Gay and Lesbian marriage equality to somehow bring an end to marriage ‘as we know it’ – by which I am assuming they are referring to the oppressive definition of marriage.
Of course, any thinking person would know that there are basic flaws in such assertions. Firstly nuclear colonial family values are not the values of all. The imposition of the nuclear family model was instrumental in colonial oppression and the creation of a context whereby oppressive gender relationships reigned. If those are the values that this country is meant to adhere to then we are in serious trouble. If we are talking about family values that are about extended and collective care for each other, about being supportive of relationships and providing manaaki for those around us within our whānau, then critical to that care and manaaki is an acknowledgement of all relationship forms.
Secondly, there is no legitimate evidence of negative impact on children born and raised with Gay and Lesbian parents. In fact the evidence shows the complete opposite. What counts in the raising of children to be well-rounded, secure, honest and good people, is a context that is loving and supportive and truthful. Those values are not the domain of any group, irrespective of sexuality or family type.
And thirdly, I have been amazed at the power that those in opposition to the Bill seem to give Gay, Lesbian, Takatapui people. That we are all powerful in our ability to destroy an institution that has been a part of western culture for thousands of years. And yes, I do say western culture, as the notion of marriage is not the same across cultures. In Te Ao Māori we had particular ways of acknowledging and legitimating relationships with our whānau, hapū and iwi – and yes, before anyone jumps too quickly - we have always had takatapui and Gay and Lesbian and Bisexual relationships with the Māori world. The context that we find ourselves in at this point in time is that the construction of marriage within a legal system is the means by which relationships in this country are now legitimated fully. The struggle for Civil Union was a first step, but the reality is that all couples, all people have a fundamental right to determine and to chose the way in which they wish to formalize and legitimate their relationship. Those social conservatives that seek to deny that right whilst at the same time argue for ‘one law for all’ need to seriously consider their position, as they say ‘you can’t have your cake and eat it too!’. There is no place for a two-tiered system that relegates Gay and Lesbian relationships to a lesser status than that of all other relationships. Marriage Equality is well overdue and we hope to see a strong stand tonight in Parliament for social justice. No reira, nga mihi nui ki a koe Louisa, kia kaha, kia maia, kia manawanui i tenei ahiahi po.
Dr Leonie Pihama (Te Atiawa, Ngati Mahanga, Nga Mahanga a Tairi)