The silent majority are not the people over there.
In the scientific opinion polls, there is strong majority support for civil unions. And even if there wasn’t, this would still be the right thing to do. The rights of minorities should never be dependent on the whim of the majority. Ask Black Americans. Ask German Jews. Human rights have the highest demand on us. And in Aotearoa New Zealand we have had human rights for gay and lesbian people since 1993. It’s taken eleven years to protect the status of our relationships, and our children within those relationships.
I am so happy the decision of parliament last night means that we won’t have to live through a referendum on civil unions next year. What a nightmare that would have been! As a minister, I know how damaging homophobic rhetoric is to the most vulnerable members of our community, especially those who do not have strong circles of support from family and friends. There is clear evidence that a referendum would increase increased anxiety, depression, alienation, and isolation for some gay and lesbian people. We elect MPs to make important decisions and today they must all vote according to their consciences alone, unintimidated by threats of election results or hellfire.
We who are gay and lesbian have endured a lot of misunderstanding, and worse than that, lies and hatred, over the past few months. This campaign has given people license to say some terrible things. As part of Christians for Civil Unions, I am horrified by what has been said and done in the name of Jesus, who welcomed everyone and who crossed boundaries to be in relationship with the excluded and the marginalised. I am appalled at what has been said about our parenting of our wonderful children by people purporting to care about children. The Jesus whose way I follow welcomed children. The disciples weren’t there acting as bouncers to turn away the children of the families that were unacceptable to the political and religious powers that be.
So we are here to affirm the rights of all New Zealanders to legal protection for their relationships. But legal protection is not enough—there must also be opportunity for public commitment with friends and family, and social recognition from the community. God is love and God cares about and honours the love between gay partners, de facto partners, and our families. I look forward to much celebration as we embrace the rights and responsibilities that civil unions will bring to us as individuals, couples, families, and as a nation.
On August 23, I spoke about Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s support for gay and lesbian people and remembered his dream. Today, we believe that the dream will come a little closer to reality. But it is not finished. There will always be more do for those who are excluded. We must not forget the family of Ahmed Zaoui, his wife, and his children, growing up in hiding without their father. And so we go on with the work of love, until there is indeed justice for all.