Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Equivalence is not Equality

I have to agree with Marilyn Waring. The Civil Unions Bill has nothing to do with equality. According to a strangely written story in The Herald yesterday,
Professor Waring… called for amendments to the 1954 Marriage Act and the 1995 Births Deaths and Marriages Registration Act to allow for same-sex marriages [saying] "Equivalence is not equality." The professor in public policy at Massey University, Albany, believes excluding same-sex couples from marriage is discrimination. She claims the bill is "inconsistent with the rights and freedoms contained in the Bill of Rights".

It’s not that I don’t agree that there ought to be something like a civil union arrangement for those who want it. Heck, it might be just the thing for me and my partner. The problem is that I am a heterosexual. Part of the dominant culture. Heterosexuals don’t need to struggle for respect and recognition of their relationships. Gays do. The fact is that they are being discriminated against, and the Civil Unions Bill does nothing to change this.

True, many of the people who support the Civil Unions Bill have been clear that the Bill doesn’t go far enough. Many people have understood from day one that the Bill achieves nothing but equivalence. But emotionally, psychically, the fight to get the Civil Unions Bill through Parliament has been all about equality. That's what the debate has been all about.

My feeling is, if you are going to fight for something, fight for it. Especially when the environment is right, and particularly when it appears that the rest of the world is slowly coming around to the fact that preventing homosexuals from marrying amounts to discrimination.

It’s been a perfect issue for Labour. By proposing a civil union, they have been able to position themselves as progressive, attracting the support of all the people who they will need to have on side as the next election looms closer. These might be the same people who lost faith in Helen after her reactionary stand toward Maori over the foreshore and seabed.

At the same time, they have given themselves waffle room. Because they can then stand up and say that the Civil Unions Bill has nothing to do with marriage. Hopefully that will deflect some of the fire coming from Labour’s socially conservative centre. It’s classic bad faith. And it’s classic politics.

It’s just a pity that so many good people have had to fight so hard to defend apartheid for homosexuals.