And so, the Marriage Equality Bill passed its second reading (77-44), with only one final reading now lying between it and ultimate passage, and the introduction of marriage equality and inclusive adoption reform for eligible LGBT couples. So, what explains the Christian Right's unwillingness to admit defeat?
On the morning of the second reading debate, the New Zealand Herald and Fairfax newspapers expressed confidence in the outcome, given that Rangitikei National MP Ian MacKelvie was the only acknowledged defection from the positive parliamentary group. As it turned out, there were three additional defections, all from the National Party side- Gerry Brownlee, Murray McCully and Jonathan Coleman all voted against the second reading after voting for the first reading. However,that was the limit of the attrition in this context. New Zealand First moved a supplementary order paper which would have meant that Parliament would have had to delay committee and third reading stages until after a referendum was held. It was heavily defeated (83-33). Next, there will be a whole house committee stage and then the third and final reading. However, given minimal attrition thus far, we can still be confident of the bills passage.
It was excellent to see National Party allies like Tau Henare and Chris Auchinvole forcefully state their support for marriage equality within the second reading debate. Tau Henare was particularly good, declaring his utter rejection of manipulative and deceptive referendum ploys by party colleagues who opposed marriage equality. Chris Auchinvole also spoke wisely and well, discussing his time on the Government Administration select committee. There were even some useful acknowledgements of anti-bill extremism from Whanganui National MP Chester Burrows, himself a fundamentalist and anti-bill proponent.That is wholly commendable and he should be congratulated for the civility and respectful tone of his contribution to the debate. The New Zealand Herald reported on some of the rejected submissions, such as that of Catholic Action, an extremist Wellington-based Catholic Right organisation which raved that supporters of the bill risked the "road to hell for all eternity." Parliament was entitled to reject those. It was also good to see new National List MP Aaron Gilmore and Labour List MP Carol Beaumont supporting marriage equality.
There will be amendments, as recommended by the select committee. These will probably include clarifying the role of celebrants and definitively enabling antigay religious organisations to refuse to marry same-sex couples if their central doctrines are antigay. Some more mischievous ones from diehard anti-bill MPs are also possible. One might attempt to weaken the Human Rights Act by including special discriminatory rights for antigay religious individuals in secular occupations like wedding cake preparation, public registry work, wedding photography and so on to engage in service provision discrimination. This has been mooted by Family First and needs to be signalled as unacceptable.
(As I have warned beforehand, it is still possible that the Conservatives and/or Family First will try to force a referendum against marriage equality on the rest of the New Zealand public. That needs to be fought vigorously. Family First may try to obtain funding for such a referendum from the US Christian Right-dominated World Congress of Families and this needs to be strongly fought).
What makes Family First, the Conservative Party and Right to Life New Zealand all so unwilling to admit defeat, or for that matter, even dissent within their own ranks, or the hopelessness of their current task as New Zealand approaches the third reading of the Marriage Equality Bill? Fortuitously, I read Ian Kershaw's recent book about the end of the European theatre of the Second World War,The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany: 1944-1945 (2011).
Kershaw outlines a process of 'groupthink' within Nazi Germany after an ill-fated assassination attempt against Adolf Hitler in 1944. As a consequence of that abortive attempt, the Nazi Party gained growing ascendancy within Nazi Germany, at the cost of practical military strategy and tactics against the encroaching British, US and Soviet armed forces. As the strategic situation grew more and more dire, Hitler and his innermost circle descended into a cognitive 'fuhrerbunker' of their own, unable to allow themselves to admit the growing likelihood and imminence of defeat, tactical and strategic mistakes and impediments and their cumulative effect. As late as January 1945, Hitler and his inner circle still harboured grandiose fantasies of Allied fragmentation, a partial armistice, 'miracle weapons' that would turn the tide of the conflict, architectural follies that would never be built and other signs of growing isolation from grim and harshening realities. However, ultimately, even the inner circle was forced to admit that their circumstances and probability of long-term survival had become too pessimistic, as the Red Army breached eastern German frontiers and began to move steadily toward Berlin itself.
Something like that is occuring when it comes to marriage equality. In Pinknews, it has been disclosed that the controversial Mark Regnerus 'hatchet job' against same-sex parenting, subject to repeated criticism from mainstream medical, scientific, child health, welfare and development organisations, was a fixup from its inception. The conservative Catholic antigay Witherspoon Institute paid Regnerus $US 700,000 to conduct the research and had an active role in development of the research, and data analysis was carried out by a Witherspoon Institute research fellow. There are also letters to Regnerus from Witherspoon Institute fellow Luis Tellez, urging him to complete the project before the US Supreme Court delivered its verdicts on the legality of the anti-equality US federal Defence of Marriage Act and Calfornia's Proposition 8. At the same time, the US Internal Revenue Service has ended the "reparative therapy" advocacy group NARTH's tax-exempt status. The tide is turning against the Christian Right.
Why did so many stay loyal to Hitler until the bitter end and the siege and invasion of Berlin itself? Hitler was a charismatic leader and his communication skills and centralised authority brooked no practical rivals. As a consequence, Nazi ideological purity sabotaged attempts to rescue some redoubt against encroaching defeat. When the gravity of impending defeat became crystal-clear, fragmentation and disintegration began, with local revolts against Nazi authority and finally, even the defection of SS leader Heinrich Himmler.
Now, I am not labelling Family First or the Christian Right as neofascist at all. Nevertheless, it suffers from strikingly similar philosophical and strategic blinkers. It chose to maintain its addiction to the US Christian Right, in the form of the US National Organisation for Marriage's game plan and propaganda against same-sex parenting from the Witherspoon Institute. It preached 'compassion and restraint' within its submissions, while refusing to disavow extremists like homophobes Ian Wishart and Australian Bill Muehlenberg. It refused to acknowledge that continual advocacy of binding citizens referenda would alienate potential conservative Catholic supporters, creating a wedge that impeded Christian Right mobilisation. But at the end of the day, it couldn't acknowledge that New Zealand society is too secularised, pluralist and liberal to enable survival of a large scale Christian Right movement like that within the United States.
And so, onto the third reading. We need to keep up our resolve and keep lobbying parliament until the final vote, so more parliamentary attrition doesn't occur. After that, we will need to place as many impediments to the probable anti-equality referendum in its path as possible.
Ian Kershaw: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany (1944-1945): New York: Penguin: 2011.
"Religious think-tank behind controversial study on same-sex parenting" Pinknews: 11.03.2013: http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2013/03/11/us-religious-think-tank-behind-controversial-study-on-same-sex-parenting/