With gay marriage back in the headlines, it's telling to look at the numbers and take stock of the campaign to stop marriage equality

Tomorrow MPs will vote on the second reading of Louisa Wall's marriage amendment bill. On its first reading the bill passed comfortably, 80-40. So seeing just how many MPs change their vote will be an interesting measure of how effective socially conservative groups are these days.

Those supporting the bill have every right to be confident; there's little doubt the bill will pass. There's hardly any sign of the very public anger that accompanied the Homosexual Law Reform Act in 1986, when Invercargill MP Norm Jones thought it acceptable to tell gays to, "'Go back into the sewers where you come from".

For an indicator of social change, look at John Banks. On the decriminalising of homosexuality in 1986 he said:

“This day will be remembered as a sad and sickening day for New Zealand”

This week he'll vote in favour of gay marriage.

Yet I fear there is more disquiet about than has been publicly acknowledged. Social mores are such that open bigotry is no longer acceptable and that, happily, is moderating the mood and language. But despite the assumptions of many I meet that this is a no-brainer, beyond the socially liberal fringes of the media and beltway I suspect a significant number of New Zealanders are at least uneasy with this bill.

Those opposed to the bill have found a line that's acceptable for the times – that 'New Zealand has civil unions which give gays and lesbians equality before the law. So why do they need more?'. The argument is that they've got a fair go now, why do they need to come around upsetting our marriage apple cart.

It allows someone to say they're not anti-gay per se, but just protective of the institution of marriage.

If that line had been latched onto sooner the bill may have had some difficulties, as it gives people to take a more conservative stance without expressing outright prejudice. And I think as the vote gets closer, public sentiment has become more wary of change, as it often does in votes on historic social change.

Look at what few polls have been taken on this. In June last year a One News-Colmar Brunton poll gave the bill 63 percent support; in December a Herald on Sunday poll had support at 54 percent. (There was a Curia poll this year for Family First this year, but the question was so leading it's hardly worth the mention).

A Research New Zealand poll in the middle of 2011 put support at 60 percent. In September last year it was 49 percent. It's worth noting that, if New Zealand First's view held sway and this went to a referendum, I'm not at all sure it would win.

It's easy to downplay this vote as natural evolution of a liberal society, and a done and dusted deal. But it is undoubtedly a major step as a society.

Look at the 23,000 public submissions to the select committee. Yes, many were form letters, but that doesn't mean a lack of belief.

And those opposed see this as a sign of something terribly wrong with modern society. They cannot understand how anyone can see marriage as anything other than between a man and a woman... that there is no right to marriage but only one bestowed by society... and that a vocal minority is embarking on a social experiment that could harm families.

The problem with their campaign, as far as I can see, is that while it seems the public mood has shifted, it's been insufficient to move the politicians. In the end, it's the MPs who count (and vote) and those running the campaign seem to have misjudged. Perhaps they should have targetted the politicians themselves more directly.

It's a sign of how far New Zealand – and indeed many western countries – have come in a generation that a majority have more flexible ideas about families and how they can function. As is often the case, personal experience has overcome social expectations.

But I remain interested to see how many MPs change their vote tomorrow. More than a handful said they voted for the first reading to have the issue debated. Most will feel happy at the lack of public angst and will feel safe to go ahead and vote yes. But will conservative campaigns have changed the minds of many?

I'll be curious to see the numbers tomorrow, but not surprised if the majority has shrunk just a bit.

Comments (6)

by Andrew Geddis on March 12, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Look at the 23,000 public submissions to the select committee. Yes, many were form letters, but that doesn't mean a lack of belief.

OK. Here's what the Select Committee said about those submissions:

We received 21,533 submissions on this bill. We considered that 18,635 of these submissions replicated content in a very similar manner; 10,487 were in favour of the bill and 8,148 were against the bill.
In other words, the majority of submissions supported the Bill.
by Andrew Geddis on March 12, 2013
Andrew Geddis

Oh ... and as for:

(There was a Curia poll this year for Family First this year, but the question was so leading it's hardly worth the mention).

I'm sure there's a furious Kiwiblog rebuttal being typed out as this comment posts ... .

by Tim Watkin on March 12, 2013
Tim Watkin

Quite agree about the numbers, Andrew. My point of quoting that number was to show public interest over all, not one way or t'other. It's just a bigger deal than some suggest.

As for the Curia poll, here's the question:

In 2004, Parliament legislated to allow same sex couples to register a civil union, amending over 150 pieces of legislation to give legal rights and recognition to same-sex couples. Do you think Parliament should change the definition of marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry, or do you think civil unions are sufficient for same sex couples?  

Saying you've made lots of legal accomodations and suggesting civil unions are "sufficient" does rather lead people to say - 'what more do they want?'

But I don't think David is terribly bothered about the likes of us, anyway!

by Simon Connell on March 12, 2013
Simon Connell

I think that Curia poll is noteworthy because more people were still for marriage equality (47 percent versus 43 against), despite the leading question. However, it can't usefully be compared to the other polls, because of the difference in question.

by Steve on March 13, 2013

The majority of form submissions supported the bill, however 55% of the unique submissions were opposed.

Of the 23,000 submissions the committee recieved, they only heard 220 during the rushed and undemocratic process. In preference to New Zealanders the committee took time to hear a Dutchman, who like Abel Tasman before him, came to New Zealand, got involved in a disagreement and then left, contributing nothing.

The arguement that youth support the law change is also false                                       http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1303/S00142/youth-against-redefining-marriage.htm 

by Tim Watkin on March 13, 2013
Tim Watkin

We've seen the vote tonight and it's settled at 77-44 – a small swing back and a sign that MPs have decided that New Zealanders are largely comfortable with the change and they are able to ignore the flood of emails they've been receiving from conservative campaigners. That's an interesting sign of where political power lies these days.

I think it's a brave vote by some, because I think the country is much more divided on this than most accept. To add to the polls above, I point to RadioLive this afternoon and John Tamihere condemning gay marriage. Supposedly the phones had never run so hot and most agreed with him.

It's interesting to note that (Peters and Horan aside) all the Maori MPs voted in favour despite a strong strain of conservatism on sexual orientation from within Maoridom. (Harawira for one was opposed originally before realising his movement required something else of him).

Also note the Nats who changed their vote... Brownlee, McCully and Coleman. I get the conservative nature of the B & M's electorates, but wonder where Coleman's coming from.


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