When an MP recently made remarks considered offensive to Muslims there was a great outcry and pages in the Herald devoted to putting alternative viewpoints, including invitations for the wayward MP to dine with a Muslim couple in their home, and to call the respective community leaders to explore ways in which the MP might inform himself about the community in question.
Yet as a gay man I had to listen to equally as offensive outpourings throughout the coverage of the hearings on the same-sex marriage legislation. Couples bemoaning to the committee their daughter's homosexuality as if it were the worst of curses, and one cocky little preacher from the North Shore (while I was attending) attesting to know how many sexual partners some gay men have (I'd still love to know where he got his figures from) while one Pacific Island church spoke unapologetically of their attempts to convert homosexual members of their community to the more tolerable heterosexual orientation.
But perhaps most galling was the sense that same-sex marriage is emblematic of the breakdown of a shared set of values that has befallen western society, and New Zealand in particular. This is a big burden for any person or community to bear, but as the partner in a 12-year relationship with a wonderful man (until he died of cancer) where we both worked hard, paid our taxes, and had my two daughters living with us at times, I'm still struggling with how Greg and I were responsible for such massive social decline.
In fact I would have thought that any stable relationships, regardless of the gender of those involved, was a critical building block of society. And what the opponents of same-sex marriage never explained was how a stable relationship (a marriage, for example) between two people of the same sex is somehow more responsible for social breakdown than the story covered by the Herald early in the new year of the pregnant 32-year-old unmarried mother of 11 in South Auckland whose home was renovated by the local community after some of her children had "come to the attention of the police".
The fact is that the select committee hearings revealed that there are still a huge number of misperceptions of gay people, even though enormous progress has (thankfully) been made. But the long-term couple living with their dogs and a classic car in a home with a beautiful garden in Kumeu don't get any coverage or exposure because chances are they are just getting on with living their lives like their heterosexual neighbours. Gay people are as diverse and varied as the entire population now. Your accountant, these days, is just as likely to be gay as your interior designer.
The fact that some - not all - gay people now seek to be able to marry is symptomatic of the fact that many of us aspire to the same things as straight people: stable, loving relationships, loving relationships that are no lesser valued than heterosexual relationships.
For if same-sex people are not to be allowed to marry then there needs to be a very sound rational reason for that discrimination. Not one emerged at the select committee hearings that I attended, where most opponents seemed unrepentant in expressing their ill-informed views on the evils of homosexuality, an issue that was actually resolved 25 years ago with the passing of homosexual law reform.
So while it was distressing to hear people so unashamedly express their prejudices (and too often their ignorance), hopefully the select committee process will confirm that same-sex marriage will not bring civilisation to an end but that it is a logical step towards ensuring a significant minority have access to a socially stabilising institution with no disadvantage to anybody else.
Gay people are used to having their lives exposed to scrutiny on a regular basis, and it is always a shock to hear just how much misinformation there still is in the wider community about who we are. But if in this latest instance this is the price we have to pay for achieving the right to marry someone we love, then it is a small price to pay.
Stephen Rainbow is a former Wellington City councillor and former chief of staff to the Mayor of Auckland.