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Editorial: Why the gay vote leans to the left.

Posted in: Politics and Religion
By Jay Bennie - 23rd November 2011

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Many of those who gave us their thoughts in GayNZ.com's straw poll conducted over the past two weekends say they vote with their sexuality in mind and even more say they vote left of centre.

Frankly, and taking a broad view, our overall political leanings are not surprising given the histories and current stances of the parties and the candidates they field.

Despite its friendlier face as epitomised by leaders such as Jim Bolger thru Jenny Shipley and on to John Key National still seems to be an uneasy home for glbti MPs and issues, which are at heart about equality of opportunity and responsibility. National continues to have the most closeted MPs and their one openly gay MP rarely seems to connect in any way with glbti community interests or needs. Whilst their leader revels in having his picture snapped at Auckland's Big Gay Out, dancing with drag queens to illustrate how liberal he can be, the best he could come up with when asked what his party had done for us while in Government was to point out that they hadn't actually rolled back any of our advances. Huh?

More recently John Key said clearing up the gross injustices against same-sex couples wanting, or needing, to adopt is just not a priority. The National-led government completely ignored the move to have the just-finished Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting acknowledge the Commonwealth's preponderance of countries which deal savagely with their glbti citizens. Foreign Minister Murray McCully has totally ignored gay media requests to explain the Government's non-stand. Likewise, National's two out candidates, Chris Finlayson and Claudette Hauiti, have completely ignored requests for brief candidate interviews in the lead-up to the election. Not even courtesy replies to our requests.

Historically, several closeted National MPs have voted against glbti advances towards equality and even the straight but liberal ones like Simon Power have exhibited a propensity for voting against our natural rights - even when they feel it would have been more just to vote in favour of them. This all leaves an uncomfortable feeling that, to National, retaining power and position is more important than helping, or being seen to help, glbti people to live equitable and decent lives. We seem to be dispensable.

Labour has had by far the most openly glbti MPs or wannabe MPs historically and several more have popped up as candidates in this weekend's election. They've had an openly lesbian party president and their gay MPs in particular have risen high in their Parliamentary seniority. On the downside Labour was, back in the day, the party of the incredibly vocal homophobe Geoff Braybrooke and they too have had a few closet cases along the way. But it's impossible to overlook the fact that most landmark legislation of major importance to glbti people has been initiated and passed during a Labour tenure of the Government benches.

Yet as Labour tired in its last term in Government remaining glbti issues such as adoption and gender identity disappeared from public view, despite the increasing prominence of their glbti candidates. Perhaps its strategists were hearing those 'poofter party' jibes. This year, in the lead-up to this election, in which National is way out front in the final straight, those issues are front and centre of the party's Rainbow policy.

Casting an eye over the smaller parties it's clear that the Greens are completely on side with our interests. Their strong glbti policies have remained consistent and they have an increasing glbti profile amongst their candidates and likely MPs. Metiria Turei, now their co-leader, had a brave attempt at introducing pro-same-sex adoption as a private member's bill, sadly it did not emerge from the ballot. Should they do as well as their polling suggests it is even possible the Greens might be courted to shack up with a National-led government. What priority would they then seek for their pro-glbti policies? Watch this space.

As ACT thrashes about in its death throes who could have thought that this party, once under the leadership of liberal and pro-glbti politician Rodney Hide, would become the home of the vile and viciously anti-gay John Banks and the dubious at best Don Brash. ACT is now certifiably toxic territory.

Then there's Winston Peters... as a National MP he vehemently voted against Law Reform in the 1980s, thundered portents of doom when it passed and hasn't changed his spots since. His NZ First party used to be deceptively liberal in a countrified, live and let live kind of way. But Winnie himself never, ever was.

The Maori party, especially co-leader Pita Sharples, seems to be kind of pro-gay - but in a don't scare the maraes kind of way. Its stance on same-sex couple adoption is so far wishy-washy to say the least.

Perhaps the biggest surprise in recent months is the tiny Mana party. Despite being a tad boorish on many issues its leader, Hone Harawira, seems quite comfortable with glbti equality. And the party he kick-started has attracted the likes of reliably staunch social progressives such as Sue Bradford.


Some specific electorates warrant a quick mention, particularly Auckland Central, Epsom and Ohariu.

Long a Labour and pro-glbt stronghold, Auckland Central was lost to National's Nikki Kaye at the last election. She's personable, hard working and effortlessly pro-gay. So is her main opponent, the equally determined and visible Jacinda Adern. If there is any difference between them it seems to be that maybe Kaye is more calculating in her public embracing of glbt issues. Or maybe its just that her swotting up on our issues shows - which isn't actually a bad thing surely? To her credit Kaye has publicly acknowledged that her highly pro-gay stances have not always sat easily with the political company she keeps.

The stench of deeply offensive cynicism permeates the National-ACT deal under which Epsom's National voters are supposed to vote for ACT's John Banks (the poster boy for homophobia who not so long ago was a National MP and cabinet minister) in order to get National more Parliamentary numbers than it would muster if their own pseudo-candidate wins. Will Epsom's more conservative gays want to shore up a party with National's patchy record on glbt issues, and get Banks - and Brash, who can best be decribed as unreliable on glbt matters - back into the house as a bonus?

In Ohariu one of our own, Labour's Charles Chauvel, is a real threat to Peter Dunne and the future of his UnitedFuture party. Dunne, the longtime MP renowned for being utterly sensible about everything other than his hair, could be done in as the party's hopes rest with him winning the electorate he has held since the '80s. "Mr Common Sense" has been a mixed bag for our communities; supporting law reform but voting against the Civil Union Act. However he is in favour of updating adoption laws and UnitedFuture has a gay candidate in its ranks.

And this is as good a time as any to say, on behalf of glbti folk, a warm and sincere thank you to the now-retired Jim Anderton, the ex-Labour MP who struck out on his own and retained his socially progressive attitudes which always included voting to better the sometimes blighted lives of glbti people.

This Saturday your vote will either help to choose a government to reign over us for the next three years or at the very least to send a signal as to the kind of leadership you would prefer. There are plenty of pro-glbti options on the ballots and more glbti candidates than ever before.

As for the accompanying electoral system referendum, its hard to go past the fact that under the old FPP system glbt people had hardly any profile in Parliament, while under MMP and in these more enlightened times we have a broader representation through a wider range of political parties and candidates.

Make sure you vote and make your vote count.


GayNZ.com will present live hourly news reports, interviews and backgrounders from late Saturday afternoon as voting draws to a close and throughout the evening as the results come in.


Jay Bennie - 23rd November 2011

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