What with the Civil Unions Bill finally set to get a first reading in Parliament this month, I though it would be a good time to publish a partial transcript of a public meeting on civil unions held a little while ago at the Milford Baptist Church on Auckland's North Shore and subsequently transcribed by some enterprising young chaps.
Points of interest: a furiously equivocating National MP Wayne Mapp explaining why Helen Clark is out of touch with the electorate because she supports the Civil Unions Bill, but Don Brash isn't; Mapp admitting that many MPs who voted against homosexual law reform, including Lockwood Smith, now regret doing so; United Future MP Paul Adams claiming, on the other hand, that "having spoken to many [MPs] that now said that if we knew where that pathway was going to go to, we would never have voted in favour " of homosexual law reform; Adams declaring that gay people aren't discriminated against because they still have the right to marry someone of the opposite sex; and the Maxim Institute's Amanda McGrail declaring that "marriage itself is not a human right. It's an institution and it's not about whether you love somebody or not ..."
This transcript derives from a public meeting on Sunday May 30th, 7pm, at Milford Baptist Church, Milford, North Shore City. Technical problems mean it is only a partial record of proceedings: it begins mid-way through a question and answer session. The first question here related to the amount of money Civil Unions would save in benefit payments once same-sex couples claiming two separate incomes become recognised in formal relationships.
Amanda McGrail - Maxim Institute: It would be interesting to look at the statistics, but I would be very surprised if there is a significant proportion of homosexual relationships on the benefit. Well at least in the United States, when you look at the living standards and all the main criteria for living standards as a relationship type ... inaudible ...
Interjection: It has been quoted to save $50 million.
McGrail: Well, I think if the government was genuinely concerned about saving money there are other ways they could do it. But that is still a valid point.
Wayne Mapp - National MP for North Shore: Inaudible.
Chairman: Okay, another question - there are too many incentives to leave marriage, what can be done to get couples to stay together longer?
Paul Adams - United Future List MP: Well I think that's exactly right. I think that a lot of our legislation, and a lot of the way we handle situations at the moment... We are very good at putting an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff and we are very poor at putting the ambulance at the top of the cliff. And that's why I think that if the government did pick up the responsibility ... or, not the responsibility ... If the government could see the importance and the reward, to sustain marriage relationships and channel funding in there so that people could have counselling and all of those things, to keep them together, that would be very good.
At the moment it works exactly the opposite. We in our business, we've got a mechanical workshop, and there was a couple who had been working on their cars, for many years they struggled with two or three kids I forget how many and we always tried to help them out as they paid the bill and one day this young lady came in and she had a list with a hundred or a thousand dollars of work that had to be done on the car and we said, well hang on, how are you paying for it?
And she said, well I think Winz is paying for it, because she had left her husband and now they would pick up all the mechanical bills. They had explained to her that now she would have no more financial problems now that she had left her husband and if she chose to have even more children they would help her out even further. And I thought, well, wake up! Where is the help to get them to reconcile what is going to be the long-term effect on those children? And so therefore I think that we need to make sure that we start putting things in place. But first of all we must recognise that marriage is important, and marriage is worth fighting for, and I believe that it is. But that requires a mindset change in the government.
Mapp: Well, just very briefly, I think in fact Paul's explained it very well. We certainly do have too many financial incentives that make splitting up a much less painful process than it, than it should be. I am not suggesting that we would change [inaudible] grounds for separating, I don't think that anybody would advocate that. But certainly you don't want, as Paul has very well explained, you don't want incentives built into the benefit system that make it easier.
Two things that National would do: One, we do want to increase the liable parent contribution so that a significant financial disincentive if you will, from that point of view, that parents don't escape from obligations by separating. Secondly, one of the reasons why Dr Brash was fairly clear that, in the Budget debate, that he didn't oppose all parts of the budget ... we do recognise that lower and middle income families do need a tax break and indeed a tax credit. And so realistically, we would be unlikely to repeal much of this current legislation. We opposed the Budget because it was anti growth. It didn't do things on that side of the equation. There are [inaudible] we as a society have got to make it a little easier through the tax system for couples who are together raising children - and conversely there needs to be a level of financial disincentives in relation to people separating.
Adams: Can I just add there? Because I think what Wayne says is very important. United Future of course supported the Budget because we have got a confidence and supply agreement but I agree with what Wayne is saying. There is a fundamental ideology in Labour that is about wealth transfer. So therefore the system [inaudible] will be complicated. Families will have to apply for assistance. But to me, I don't want a generation to arise that has not got the ability to dream. That has not got the ability to progress forward. Now when, as Wayne has correctly said, you put in a tax system that's very easy to do because if you can have one dependant, two dependants, three dependants and then the government recognises that by giving you a greater return back on your tax, well that to me, when we do that helps to build families and inspire them to work and to get ahead and so its just a basic twist and I think we just need to [inaudible] in our country to actually get it going ahead because it's a great nation.
Chairman: This is a question for Dr Mapp, and it isn't ... its not my question because I have already asked him this question. If Helen Clark is out of touch with the electorate, is it correct that, as Dr Brash has indicated he will vote for the Civil Unions Bill also, is he out of touch with the electorate?
Mapp: Good question ... that's a fair question. This is a conscience vote for the National MPs and I have indicated that in my speech. I am sure a number of National MPs will vote for this legislation because they are usually a fairly predictable group of people.
What's the difference between Dr Brash voting for it, and Helen Clark voting for it? They come at it really from different perspectives. Helen Clark's statements, which we have heard tonight, is that she doesn't want to see any difference, that there should be no practical difference between marriage and other relationships. That's a fundamentally different way of looking at it from when you say you want relationships between same sex couples to have some level of recognition.
Dr Brash's vote is really on the basis that he wants a mechanism for there to be some legal recognition for same sex relationships. But I believe based on the discussion that I had with him that he also believes that National needs to be supportive of marriage and families and our mechanism will be primarily through the tax system. We see that as a very necessary thing for society because traditional ... marriage is as much as anything is about the raising of children, there are other values in it, and I know that not every couple has children. But the institution itself is primarily there actually to provide the nurturing climate to to raise children in and we will always want be able to reinforce the value of marriage in that regard.
Adams: Can I just add something to that without the risk of me sounding like a politician? I think we need to [think beyond?] first past the post mentality in New Zealand. We have really come to thinking how we are going to have National or we are going to have Labour. Because they are our two major parties. Now in all my years, and I am 57 years of age, I think that there is not a lot of difference basically between the National and the Labour on 85% of the issues. So when you are voting, whether you are voting for an electorate MP or a list MP, I know that my trees at home have got oranges on them because I see the orange. You will never convince me that my orange tree is an apple tree because I can see the fruit on it.
So when you are voting for your MP, whoever you choose to vote for, you need to critique them. What is the fruit of their life? Because that is really the critical thinking. And that fundamental thinking will reflect as they come into the House of Representatives ... and I think most New Zealanders have been party orientated rather than politician orientated and you get a group of MPs in that house you will not pass any legislation in this country unless you have got 61 people agreed with what you are saying. So if some of these issues are important to you, when you look at who you are going to vote for in the next election, and you will have two votes, you critique those people and say "do I like the fruit of the life that they have led to date?" and if the answer is yes, you happily vote for them.
Chairman: This is a sort of a belated question in a sense: When the homosexual Law Reform Legislation was passed, despite New Zealand's largest petition, the politicians um... learned that they could ignore the electorate with impunity. What ensures that they will listen now?
Adams: Well I think this is a good question. Because see the issue they were dealing with there when you go back to it really was: should the act of homosexuality be legal? In other words they were saying if a man has sex with a man, should we put him into prison for that? And the thinking was, well if the answer to that is yes, well what shall we do with adultery? Because if we are going to put a man in prison for having sex with a man, why don't we make a man or a woman's prison for having sex with somebody outside of marriage? And that was the grounds that they convinced people and people and the politicians I believe at that time, having spoken to many of them that now said that if we knew where that pathway was going to go to, we would never have voted in favour of it. And so many who voted in favour of it were actually voting for it on the pretence that no, it is wrong for a man to be sent to prison for that act but of course that was the [inaudible] that opened the door that is leading us to where we still are today.
Mapp: Well I think this whole issue of conscience votes actually raises the role of referenda and I think, on a whole range, not every issue is able to be distilled into a yes or no question, but many of them are. Or are very clear choices in terms of say, age 18 or 20, and Paul and I, ahh, think alike on this very issue of the alcohol issue. I think I I... I would personally be happy for those issues to be dealt with directly by referenda. Now my recollection is, and I may well be wrong on this because we are going back nearly 20 years, although there was the 800 person petition...
Mapp: 800,000 sorry, yes. Ahh, the polls never the less were actually favouring a change. It was a fairly close, ah, fight and ah, I would personally tend to put more weight on polls ah than, than petitions because they are frankly a truer measure. I think the ultimate poll is actually a referendum. I really have to contest your view somewhat Paul, the the number of MPs I know who actually voted against it in 1986, regretted that decision subsequently and felt that they should have actually voted for it and I know that was a decisive factor for one particular person ahm Dr Lockwood Smith, his vote on the prostitution legislation earlier this year. I say that here because he said it publicly that he voted against in 1986 and he felt and he always felt that he should have for, essentially on the basis that he didn't feel that it was a matter that should be subject to criminal law and um, he regretted his vote, and it influenced, interestingly enough, his vote on prostitution.
Chairman: I think in a sense Dr Mapp you have answered this question: Is there any real value in a conscience vote? The impression I get is that there would seem to be a lot of lobbying to stick to party lines. Is it possible to have a true conscience vote or should we have binding citizens referenda?
Mapp: National doesn't have a party line on this issue. It is a conscience vote, and should it come up, there will be a pretty predictable split in our caucus which is typically 2/3 - 1/3 or occasionally ... ah Labour on these issues also has a split except it comes from the opposite side, so for instance in National it would be 2/3 or 3/4 conservative, ah, traditional values and Labour tends to be 2/3 for change. There is, they are genuine conscience votes, its just that the attitudes of the two parties I guess reflect, well, the people in the two parties I should say, reflect where those two parties, sort of come from in terms of their fundamental values.
Adams: Can I just add that too because, just take the Civil Unions Bill... If it's allowed to be a conscience vote for all the house, I believe that the bill would be possibly be defeated. But if the Labour party makes it a government Bill, and therefore all of their members must vote for it, otherwise they will be in a case of crossing the floor, I believe the legislation would pass.
So that brings it to the point where many people ask well should there be [inaudible] exercise a conscience vote. Now that is a very good question. Because you compare it to citizens initiated referenda, which once again we are still weighing up how we feel on that, and United Future does have a referendum on the Prostitution Law Reform out at the moment. The problem people have with our referenda at the moment is that they are not binding referenda. [inaudible] binding referenda because I don't know, well I do know, our media in this country can be very biased.
Now the MPs when we sit down in that house, and I realise we are actually on the bottom of the list of the latest Readers Digest poll, we haven't lifted off the bottom yet as being the most trusted people in the country. But we do compare all of the evidence from both sides of the scale. And so if we decide that a conscience vote, that is probably not a bad way, it's not perfect, but it's not a bad way. Say for example you had a citizen's initiated referenda on the homosexual law reform, what is the question they are going to put to you? Because there is [Inaudible] that they can. So if they ask you the question: "Is it right or wrong to send a man to prison for a homosexual relationship?" How would you answer that compared to: "Is it right or wrong to recognise homosexuals?" You see it's what the question is and how it's portrayed through the media. So I ask myself the question: "Who [would I?] rather have making the decisions in the country, the politicians that get incredible briefing from many aspects or the public being controlled by the press?
McGrail: Just a small point, that just to reiterate that the Civil Union Bill is a conscience vote, but the omnibus bill is a government bill. [Inaudible exchange with interjector] So it's really interesting, there is two bills going through together and they are two sides to one coin. If we get Civil Unions without the omnibus then the Civil Unions will have absolutely no teeth and will not actually confer any of those rights, but if you don't have the Civil Unions and only the Omnibus, then you don't get the legal recognition but you do get the rights. So it's very strategic, so there is two one it a government one is a conscience vote.
Mapp: I think on the big conscience issues, and I ... main things like... and they are not all big... but on the big things like prostitution [inaudible exchange with interjector] age of drinking, Civil Unions, homosexuality I guess in years gone by ... I think the public, based on their own life experience in fact have a reasonably informed view. I know the media deals with things the way they deal with them, but I have to say these days the Herald provides a really superb analysis of ahh issues on both sides in a very fair way. Take the drinking age, we all know from our own life experience what the right age should be or shouldn't be. And ah, frankly... I think frankly I would be quite happy to trust the public in a binding referendum on the drinking age.
Chairman: If a child or grandchild of yours was gay or lesbian, would you be comfortable with them being treated as second class citizens by the law for the way they live their lives that has no effect on anyone else what so ever?
Adams: ...well I think that's probably a um... an unfairly worded question, I know the bias they are trying to put on it. If my grandchild was gay I would love them exactly as they are. Because what they choose to do does not affect my love for them. And so, but that does not stop me portraying to them what I believe is the correct pathway to walk down. See, all of my children are taught what I believe is right, and as a father I have found that on many occasions I can be wrong, but as I have said there is [only two kinds of?] decisions, right ones and wrong ones. Someone has to make them. Now, if I make a wrong decision, I will apologise for it. So I will not treat them as second class citizens. I would love them exactly as they are, and I would not discriminate between any of my other children on that relationship because that is what fathering is all about. You [don't?] love your children just because they are doing what you want them to do. The love I have for my children is unconditional love.
Chairman: The issue is the law, not just...
Adams: Well on the law, I don't believe that they are treated like second class citizens. But if your inferring to me that because I will not allow them to marry, well that's not treating them as second class citizens, that esteeming marriage for what it is. It's between a man and a woman. If they need certain things in their relationship, I have always said I would support the family. But in no way would I support them getting married.
McGrail: Yeah, I think marriage itself is not a human right. It's an institution and it's not about whether you love somebody or not, just because something is not exactly the same, does not automatically mean that... that...
Adams: Marriage is between a man and a woman, because that's what it is.
Mapp: I felt I'd dealt with the [inaudible] I felt I'd dealt with the key issues of discrimination when I voted to [inaudible] related things to wills to apply to same sex relationships and the arguments that I have heard since, and most recently put to me by Chris Carter seem to me to be underwhelming. So I feel, I feel the key discriminatory issues in legislation have actually been ... and ah, I frankly don't see a need for this legislation, and I guess I want to conclude on this point in saying: Marriage is an institution that ought to have a special status in law and I think it is right that it does so.
Chairman: Two more questions. Considering human rights, what right does a baby have and is that considered?
McGrail: I think the whole human rights thing is very interesting, we don't seem to have any agreed foundation of why we have them or where they come from. But I think if children have any rights at all, it's the right to a mother and a father. To intentionally bring children into the world knowing that they won't have a mother and a father is [to take away?] the most basic right...
Mapp: I must say I, ahh, again I will use Chris Carter because he has said all this publicly, I am not saying anything about him that's not on the public record. I personally found it disturbing the way he has arranged to become a father, with a lesbian couple and other people might find that perfectly ok. I didn't. Why did I find it disturbing? It just seemed to me to be fundamentally against the natural order of things, I know that's an old fashioned terminology, but that was an instinctive reaction I had to what he said. And and for that reason, I guess that's another reason why I am opposed to the Civil Union Bill it's a quite instinctive reaction, it just seems to be against our society.
Adams: Could you just imagine that, I mean to me, when we yelled out all of our flavours of ice-cream, no one could hear anyone, can you imagine that household, with those children growing up and dad sleeps with a man and mum sleeps with a woman, and they are all in the same household...
Interjection: They have two fathers and two mothers... how lucky is that?
Adams: yeah well you see... you have also got to understand, that there is not one homosexual man or lesbian woman in this country that is discriminated against and can't get married. They can. They have just got to choose a partner of the opposite sex. Because that is what marriage is.
Chairman: The last question is: What happens if ahhhh, [a couple enters a civil union?] with the Civil Unions Bill, and later want to marry?
Audience Member (McGrail's Husband): Well they are recognised under...
Interjection: There is a transfer clause. There is a transfer clause between Civil Unions Bill and marriage. If you're married and you want to be in a Civil Union instead you can transfer out into the next one and you can do it vice versa. So I've been told.
McGrail: Does the Marriage Act have to be changed?
Interjector: I don't know - I have just been told you can transfer from a marriage to a Civil Union or from a Civil Union to a marriage.
Mapp: It's an interesting question. I assume the whole reason why the government is having Civil Union legislation and not Civil Union in the Marriage Act, which is obviously another option, is that the transfer you describe in fact wouldn't be possible so that a same sex couple on ...
Interjector: No it's just for heterosexuals. Same sex couples can only have a Civil Union, but if heterosexuals are in a Civil Union and want to transfer up to a marriage, they can do so.
Mapp: I am sure you are right. Well it's now just been explained, and if you think about the logic of that, such legislation would presumably allow that. A heterosexual couple choosing a Civil Union could presumably change their minds and later on choose a marriage.
Interjection: Would you have to dissolve the Civil Union before you became married?
McGrail: Without a transfer clause then you would need to go through the process of... divorce.
Inaudible point made by audience member.
End of formal proceedings