Sexual politics is dividing New Zealand once again, this time over gay marriage. So where are the dividing lines, and how polarising are the arguments involved?
While Parliament is certainly divided on the issue, there are also interesting divides within families, religious communities, and political parties. Jane Clifton's Listener column provides the best analysis of the week - see: Here comes the bride/groom.
She looks at the impact of Louisa Wall's Marriage Equality Bill on parties and politicians, and ponders how 'Same-sex marriage just isn't considered the scary monster it used to be'. Her most insightful observation is about how the 'far right' have done a 180-degree turnaround on sexual politics, and now 'it's the Far Right that's pouring on the heaviest moral pressure in support of the bill - the reverse of the trend back in 1986, when National's hardest-liners arrayed themselves against the Homosexual Law Reform Bill'. She also notes that John Banks 'is now not ruling out voting for the bill', speculating that 'if there's anything that can redeem at least a vestige of Banks's shattered career before its final drain-gurgle, it would be an aye vote on this, accompanied by a heartfelt speech'. In contrast, Clifton says that the issue kills off the prospect of Act supporters moving over to Colin Craig's conservatives. A critique is also offered of New Zealand First's abstention on the bill.
The latest divisions produced by the bill are within a political family - see Vernon Small's MP's family split over gay marriage bill. It appears that Bridgette O'Connor is lobbying her father, Labour MP Damien O'Connor, to support the bill via Facebook. She wrote online that 'I hope he does vote for gay marriage as society needs to wake up and realise these are normal people who deserve the same treatment and rights as everyone else'.
This follows on from Damien O'Connor being 'wined and dined' in his electorate earlier in the week by other proponents of law reform - see the Greymouth Star's 'Gaggle of gays' MP courted by gay lobbyists. O'Connor is reported as deflecting the marriage issue by pointing to more significant discrimination: 'I believe that there are far more injustices that need to be addressed. For example, people who are disabled through accidents receive full support, while those disabled from birth do not. These injustices are the issues that need to be addressed'.
Ironically, it's the Labour Party that seems to be suffering the most from the divisions over the issue of marriage equality. Vernon Small's article (MP's family split over gay marriage bill) reports that Labour's Su'a William Sio 'has been rapped over the knuckles for his comments that the gay marriage bill could cost Labour the next election' because such statements were 'completely outside Labour's agreed "rules of engagement"' whereby MPs are 'free to express their personal views' but not to comment on 'its impact on the Labour Party'.
Labour's Charles Chauvel has also commented on Sio's claims that Labour would suffer from supporting gay marriage, accusing his colleague of misrepresenting the electoral consequences: 'For every conservative person born in a pacific island and brought up there, and now living in New Zealand, there's probably four or five younger New Zealand-born people who don't see what the fuss is about' - see Newstalk ZB's MP urged to tell whole truth in gay marriage debate. For another report on Labour's internal disputes over this bill, see James Ihaka's Wall digs in heels over same-sex marriage.
Labour's problems raise the issue of whether the party should even be allowing its MPs a conscience vote on the issue. After all, Labour is claiming that it campaigned at last year's election on introducing gay marriage, and therefore it could be argued that all its MPs should be required to vote in accordance with their party manifesto.
The media appears to be largely united over the issue, with all newspaper editorials advocating for marriage equality - the latest include the Press' Gay marriage - time to end discrimination and the Timaru Herald's Not the end of the world.
It's the religious community that is displaying the most division. Today Bruce Logan puts forward the conservative right's point of view in It's about liberty, not equality, the French say. Meanwhile, Michael Cox warns against using the Bible as an argument against gay marriage - see: Homosexuality debate needs compassion.
The Families Commission has thrown some material into the debate, with the release of its report on the state of New Zealand families - see Shabnam Dastgheib's Anything goes in modern Kiwi family unit. Apparently the very concept of what a family is has been radically transformed, partly because, 'The marriage rate is now less than one-third of that in 1971'. This is also a point taken up in a thoughtful blog post by Tim Watkin - see: All you need is love, love, love - but marriage matters too. Watkins makes a call for a serious and considered decision on the bill, and one that isn't too divisive.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
• The state of the Labour Party continues to attract comment with the blogger No Right Turn giving a scathing verdict that the party has effectively killed itself off as an alternative to National - see: Who cares about Labour?. He says that Labour 'is not interested in offering a real alternative policy direction from the government. They've taken the perfect opportunity presented by the financial crisis, and squandered it. Now all they are offering is a different management team, pursuing the same old policies as National: cuts, shrinking the state, and beneficiary-bashing. It is simply sickening. And as we've seen in the UK, it's also a losing strategy. People won't turn out to vote for a "choice" between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. They'll simply give up on politics instead'. For another point of view, the Standard publishes a pep-talk for those disappointed with the Labour Party - see Anthony Robins' Why I'm In - a response to the disillusioned. Meanwhile, today's Nelson Mail editorial evaluates Shearer after the launch of his 'Healthy Heartland' campaign tour - see: Shearer labouring hard to be heard.
• Debate continues over whether New Zealand troops should be in Afghanistan. The most thought-provoking contribution to the discussion today comes from Scott Hamilton, who argues that New Zealand is failing in Afghanistan - as it did in East Timor and the Solomons - because of the inability to 'balance humanitarian deeds with the pursuit of imperialist foreign policy objectives' - see: The real reasons for mission failure in Afghanistan. Other useful contributions to the debate come from Vernon Small (Afghanistan: our options are limited), Brian Rudman (Get our soldiers out of Afghanistan) and Chris Trotter (Making sense of absurd theatre).
• Prime Minister John Key has had to decide who he is going to let down this weekend - see Claire Trevett's Commitment to son will keep PM from funerals. Blogger Denis Welch says it's the Right decision, and that 'it's a commentary on what we expect of our politicians that he even had to say this'. Jessica Mutch also comments in PM's tough funeral call.
• John Key is being told off in no uncertain terms for his critique of Hungary's performance in Afghanistan - see Adam Bennett's Hungarians condemn Key's jibe about troops in Afghanistan.
• What's happening to KiwiRail? Dita De Boni says that it's current business model is running it into the ground - see: RIP rail, whatever the spin.
• Brian Easton gave a talk this week on child poverty, focused on the important roll played by the 1972 Royal Commission on Social Security - see: A Background to our understanding of child poverty. He points out that the report found that 'there are more pakeha than Maori and Pasifika who are poor; there are more in two-adult families than solo-parent families who are poor; there are more dependent on wages than benefits who are poor; there are more in their own homes (typically with a mortgage) than in rental accommodation who are poor'.
• Finally, David Farrar reviews the week in politics and rightly says its 'been a good week politically for the Government - something of a rarity this year - see his online Herald column, PM's birthday week a building block. Farrar also provides some credible reasons for why the National Party have gone up in the polls: 1) National's been 'focusing on policies, not inquiries or scandals', 2) 'Standing up for the common ownership of water is unlikely to be unpopular', 3) 'Key's support for Louisa Wall's same sex marriage bill', and 4) 'a failure from Labour to fire'.