Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: NZ 'gayest place on earth'?

Louisa Wall's gay marriage bill passed through parliament with a surprisingly high margin of 80 to 40. Photo / File
Louisa Wall's gay marriage bill passed through parliament with a surprisingly high margin of 80 to 40. Photo / File

Is New Zealand 'in the running to become the gayest place on earth'? That's the suggestion of America's gay magazine Instinct, following the passage of Louisa Wall's marriage equality bill by surprisingly high margin of 80 to 40. The international coverage of what is happening is quite interesting - for example the Washington Post has run Nick Perry's report, New Zealand Parliament passes 1st stage of gay marriage law spurred by Obama declaration. This includes the quote from Wall: 'I think the catalyst was around Obama's announcement, and then obviously our prime minister came out very early in support, as did the leader of my party.... The timing was right'.

The most interesting aspect of last night's vote was the huge margin brought about by some significant switches of support. According to Isaac Davison and Claire Trevett, 'The most dramatic turnaround of the night came from National's Hunua MP, Paul Hutchison, who had told the Herald on Tuesday that he would oppose the measure' - see PM says support for gay marriage 'overwhelming', which provides a comprehensive coverage of what happened.

It also reports that the Prime Minister has said the margin was higher than he expected, and despite the fact that Key had previously voting against civil unions in 2004, he heralded it as an 'overwhelming result' and a 'strong endorsement for equality of rights'. Other apparent vote switchers in National - or at least surprise supports of marriage equality - included Gerry Brownlee, Jami-Lee Ross, and Maggie Barry. And on the Labour side, many were impressed with the speech and support given by David Clark a former Presbyterian Minister, who had last year been unfavourable towards marriage equality.

But the really interesting convert to gay marriage has been Act leader John Banks, who previously pronounced the homosexual law reform bill as 'evil' and its passing as a 'sad and sickening day'. Duncan Garner also explains 'the 26-year turnaround of John Banks' saying that 'He's effectively been rolled by his party. They've demanded the conservative becomes libertarian. This guy has even less credibility than he did post the Dotcom saga - if that's possible. He's a joke isn't he?' - see: Gay marriage bill will pass. And perhaps Banks' declared support of gay marriage has possibly been as influential as that of Obama and Key on wavering MPs - after all, who wants to risk being labelled as 'more socially conservative than John Banks'?

The most impressive post-vote stats analysis comes from David Farrar who does the number crunching of the various parliamentary demographics to show who voted - see: How they voted details. He outlines for example that Cabinet Ministers voted by a huge margin in favour (14 to 6), that amongst Pacific MPs 2 were in favour and 4 against, 'Provincial MPs were overall against, but rural MPs were in favour'. Farrar also notes, the 'MPs who voted against civil unions and for same sex marriage are Gerry Brownlee, David Carter, Judith Collins, Clayton Cosgrove, Peter Dunne, Paul Hutchison, John Key, Murray McCully, Lockwood Smith, Tariana Turia, Maurice Williamson'. On this issue of 'the 11 MPs that swung from opposing civil unions a few years ago to backing same-sex marriage', Jane Clifton seeks an explanation in Marriage equality bill: the closet liberals.

But the real must-read is Gordon Campbell's account: On last night's same sex marriage debate. Campbell gives various forms of bouquets to Paul Hutchison, David Clark, Tim McIndoe, Su'a William Sio and the institution of conscience votes. But brickbats are handed out to John Hayes and Winston Peters, with special explanations of their alleged disingenuousness in the debate and vote. Campbell also points out another fascinating feature of the vote: 'More surprising to some that National's token liberal Chris Finlayson - also a Catholic and reportedly, also gay - voted against it. As did Tony Ryall'. Campbell also raises some possibly problematic issues to be discussed at the select committee considering the bill. Another blog to go to for detailed coverage of the debate and vote is Toby Manhire's ongoing NZ's marriage equality bill - a longblog.

There has been much angst on the left about those leftwing MPs - or at least in the Labour Party - who have been ambivalent or opposed to the legislation. Phil Twyford has come into the strongest criticism - see the blog post on Ideologically Impure, Phil Twyford, taking a truly brave stand on marriage equality. See also Cameron Slater's SMOG of the day explaining Twyford's 'social media own goal'.

The socially liberal rightwing has had to work overtime to win over some of the National vote - see David Farrar's The politics of the same sex marriage issue, which gives a step-by-step argument for wavering MPs to support gay marriage.

The issue has brought out some bizarre proclamations from MPs - Tau Henare's odd Twitter communications about the bill are reported in Isaac Davison's Henare the wizard gets to the heart of the matter. Another interesting contribution to the debate was made by the Auckland church that erected a billboard showing 'two model brides kissing atop a wedding cake, with the text "We don't care who's on top" - see Paul Harper's St-Matthew-in-the-City uses billboard to support gay marriage.

One criticism that can be made of Louisa Wall's legislation is its ambiguity over the impact of gay marriage on churches. Wall claims that the bill would have no impact on the right of churches to pick and choose who they marry, and the Human Rights Commission backs up that view. But there's still room for doubt about this - which the anti-gay marriage lobby has been exploiting and will continue to leverage before further readings of the bill in Parliament - see John Hartevelt's Bill 'forces same-sex marriages on church' - lawyer and Isaac Davison and Rebecca Quilliam's 50,000 sign against gay marriage.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

* And now the alcohol vote takes place. This will also be somewhat historic - on the basis that MPs will vote on the purchase age with three options instead of the usual two. This is all explained in detail by law expert Graeme Edgeler in Alcohol Game Theory, who speculates on what effect this could have on the outcome. Apparently, the split option - which was once the most popular amongst MPs - is now the least popular - see Isaac Davison's Vote on liquor-purchasing age expected to be close. And Mai Chen explains why the whole process is very fraught in terms of 'coherent law reform' - see: Liquor reforms highlight issues of moral bills.

* Today the Herald has come out in support of the 'split option' - see: Split age best option for liquor sales, and Kiwiblog has a guest blog post making the case to keep it 18. Meanwhile John Banks is in major trouble with his party for supporting a raised purchase age - see TV3's ACT on Campus slams Banks over drinking age vote.

* In a sign of how heated the alcohol debate is becoming amongst the various experts, Kurt Bayer reports Academics slam youth drinking researcher. And Eric Crampton continues his argument against the 'moral panic' in Alcohol purchase age.

* Is Labour too boring and cowardly? That's the essential message from ex-MP Kelvin Davis in his Maui St blogpost Getting it right: Why Labour's failed to fire. He makes a plea for the party to follow Louisa Wall's example with the marriage equality bill and 'skirt with controversy, to wear their hearts on their sleeves, go out on a limb.... Just throw some outrageous lefty ideas out there and sit back and watch the reaction, gauge the feedback, stir the pot and revel in the attention'.

* David Shearer has now responded to questions about the authenticity of his famous 'Man on the roof' - see Giovanni Tiso's Man on the roof (addendum). But not everyone's convinced - for example from the right, Cameron Slater, and from the left, the blogger Ideological impure.

* The Government is quite right to point the finger at the economy to explain increasing inequality - see Key rules out bringing back child payments. It is really a statement of fact to say that the booms and troughs of capitalism have a huge impact on the material wellbeing of the poor. But this shouldn't necessarily get the Government off the hook says No Right Turn in A choice on child poverty. Cathy Odgers puts forward a different perspective in A Poverty of Reality. But the must-read item is Danyl Mclauchlan's Government crumbles under lobbying from impoverished children.

* John Minto is New Zealand's most prominent living political activist. Karl Du Fresne gives his assessment of him in Be careful what you wish for. Meanwhile, an activist of quite a different sort has died - Jeremy Pope, the co-founded of Transparency International - see: Top activist and lawyer dies.

* Despite complaints about it being too easy for foreigners to invest in New Zealand, the New Zealand Institute (the old Business Roundtable) says that the OECD has found 'New Zealand as among the most restrictive foreign investment regimes in the developed world'. The NZI 'argues for abolishing the screening rules altogether' - see Jenny Keown's NZ entry not easy - OECD.

* The Government's plans to introduce detention rules for boat-arriving asylum seekers has come under yet more criticism - this time from an ex National Government Immigration minister who warns that National will incur the blame from the subsequent problems - see Danya Levy's Letter warns National of asylum seeker folly.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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