Stephen Rainbow: Change the marriage law and they will return

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Legalising gay marriage would send out a strong signal that gays are valued and equal members of society. Photo / Getty Images
Legalising gay marriage would send out a strong signal that gays are valued and equal members of society. Photo / Getty Images

Gay equality could draw home expats and boost economy, writes Dr Stephen Rainbow, chairman of the board of Outline, a gay counselling service, and board member of the Aids Foundation.

At a time when New Zealand is losing 1000 people a week to the rich pickings of Western Australia, has anyone thought that legalising gay marriage might be one way of attracting people back?

Researchers have often observed the disproportionate number of gay Kiwis living in Australia's cities. The reasons they have gone there are fairly obvious and are to do with the larger pool of potential "mates", a result of the size of the gay populations and the resulting facilities and infrastructure in places such as Sydney and Melbourne. But these Kiwis are among the very people this country most needs as we struggle to build a prosperous economy.

While we know far too little about gay people (at least Australia, unlike New Zealand, has a question on sexual orientation in its Census) it would be a fair assumption that the gay Kiwis living in Australia would be the kind of people who could bring back with them the creativity and ingenuity our economy needs.

An economist friend remarked recently that the future of New Zealand's primary sector lies in Auckland. He was referring to the fact that the ideas for turning agricultural produce into value-added products for export will come from the hot-house of ideas and innovation that are largely concentrated in Auckland's CBD. It is no coincidence that the head office of Fonterra is in downtown Auckland.

Now, given that Australia's Labor Prime Minister is an outspoken opponent of gay marriage and that our Prime Minister made clear on RadioLive yesterday that he will vote for it, can we not turn this into a competitive advantage for New Zealand?

The recent Australian Census revealed more than 30,000 same-sex relationships. Chances are a reasonable percentage of them are Kiwis. If these people have the potential to contribute creativity and innovation to our economy, then attracting them back through measures such as legalising same sex marriage is not just as the right thing to do, but could boost our struggling economy.

Legalising gay marriage not only permits the act itself, it also sends out a strong signal that gays are valued and equal members of society.

Central government legislative changes would reflect the Auckland Plan (and let's face it, Auckland is where most gays are and where most returning gays would want to live) which explicitly acknowledges gay people as an important part of Auckland's diversity.

This is critical because international cities guru Richard Florida describes gays as "the canaries in the mine" of the creative economy that successful global cities depend on for their prosperity and success.

From this perspective it makes sense to attract gay people to Auckland - including from the gay Kiwi diaspora in Australia - as one of the ways to build the world's most liveable (and prosperous) city.

Attracting gays back to New Zealand by removing the final impediments to full equality - the right to marry and to adopt - then becomes one of the planks for developing our economy. Apart from being the right thing to do, it also ensures that the law keeps up with what is already happening. For removing the legal impediments to gay equality are not necessarily about promoting gay marriage or adoption but ensuring that the choices - to adopt, for example - that gay couples are already making are recognised by the law.

Attracting gay Kiwis back from Australia may not replace the 1000 people a week leaving for West Australia, but it may attract back a critical mass of talented Kiwis who - as gay people generally do - make a disproportionate contribution to the places where they live.


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- NZ Herald

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