The discussion and debate around Louisa Wall's Marriage Equality Bill has caused quite a stir in the 'Pacific Community'. For those of you who haven't seen the discussion pop up (the Olympics distraction and what not) here is a very short summary of the basics; thanks to friend and lawyer Reece Autagavaia who tells us:
" The legal implications of the bill will mean same-sex couples can have civil marriages, or religious marriages if the celebrant accepts to conduct the ceremony. No celebrants will be forced to conduct marriages against their belief. One of the moral implications, as many Christians will argue, is the fundamental changing of the definition of marriage, which is meant for a man and a woman."
I did not want do get into the entire debate. I understand this is an important issue, but I honestly feel that in the context of things, there are just as many more important issues (potentially even more so) that currently hinder this society from progression, that require just as much discussion, impetus and input from all peoples of this country. The Economy, Education, Health, Welfare, Housing, poverty, these are all very pressing issues which require the urgent attention of everyone in this country if we are going to create the kind of society we all want for future generations.
I am only now just speaking out about this, because I'm worried that a lot of people take for granted the fluidity and diversity of our communities, and make a whole series of judgments on a few assumptions, or on the view of the few. I'm all for freedom of speech/thought, but I am also for the freedom of ensuring that what you speak and think is well researched, critically considered, and throughly thought out first.
People talk about the Pacific community like we're one big homogenous group. Most times, its a deficit lens approach. We beat our children up. We fail in school. We commit crime. And other times it's positive (borderline patronizing), we're all really talented, we can all sing and dance, we all play rugby, and we're all Evangelical Christians who share the same views. Having said that, there are many things that unite us. Our cultural values, we share mutual goals, have similar aspirations, but have very different ways/understandings/views and beliefs in terms of how we should go about achieving this. One only needs to look at the constant struggle of SOME (key word some) parents accepting the idea, that their child is not pursuing the life that they had ever so carefully planned out. It happens a lot in our community. It could be a child's choice of education, occupation, or, as in this case, love interest.
Our Pacific community is diverse in itself, made up of men, women, elders, church goers, non religious people, boys, girls, fa'afafine/fakaleiti, youth, lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists, single mothers, solo parents, the sick, the disabled, the unemployed and the list can go on and on.
Labour MP Sua William Sio last night, wrote a status on his Face Book page that he would not be voting on the Bill because he represents the conservative view of the Mangere Electorate, and that this could potentially hurt the community and cost him and the Labour party the next election (see here). He was rather straight forward with his position, and wanted to make it clear, rationale and all, so people understood where he was coming from. I found his position a tiny bit odd, mostly about the reference to representing the views of the entire Mangere Electorate. I say a bit odd considering there were no surveys in my mailbox asking me what I or others thought about the issue. His stance does make sense though. I think about the large amount of community work he has to do, the Church Leaders and Elders he keeps in contact with, and serves. In fact he referenced it was the concerns of this particular section (the conservatives) of the Mangere Electorate which has lead him to not support the Bill. They are entitled to their views and I respect that. Having grown up as a Samoan around the Church, such views are embedded and entrenched within you. Interestingly, his opening statements however, indicate that personally he has nothing against it.
I do however feel that the critical voice of our youth has been somewhat left out in Sua's equation. In fact, when I think about a lot of the reforms this government has made this appears to be a major issue, and I make the point in referencing the last election; the lowest voter turn out rate since the Second World War, and an ever declining rate of youth participation, and in particular the highest non voting rate of Maori and Pacific Youth. This I feel is a real issue.
Back to my point about the fluidity of our communities.I don't believe that EVERYONE in Mangere thinks the same. I also do not believe that every Pacific person is as conservative as they are assumed to be (and if they are, good on them.) However, the problematic thing about this particular issue is in how it has been promoted and discussed. It's all in the way it has been framed. As an outspoken young Pacific person, I cannot claim to represent the view of all youth. However, many of the young people I talk to agree with the need for equal rights, in terms of the entitlements and rights people are accorded when married. Most of the time anyways, and only, and especially when the discussion is framed around the discourses of equal rights.
You put 'Gay' and 'Marriage' together and all of a sudden you have everybody (well most Church going conservative people in my community anyway) quoting every Bible passage they can think of, in a bid to protect [the spiritual dimension] of marriage. And rightly so. It is as much their right to protest this from their understandings and beliefs as it is the right of anyone else to reference every Human Right Act they can think of in support of 'Marriage' Equality.
What the Member and Parliament should have done was a thorough analysis of alternative options and models available; thought critically and genuinely about the way in which this should have been framed, and then canvassed the public to see what their thoughts are on the issue which I believe would have depoliticized the issue, or at least minimized the amount of blind and uninformed hate which is currently all over my news feed. The Civil Union Bill was able to achieve this because it was promoted as ensuring basic rights to all people who chose not to get married, and passed with a minor flurry of protest.
I understand the process for Members Bills are different, but I think if this was such a priority issue for the Member and certain sections of the party, more work should have gone into how this was framed and an impact analysis should have been conducted. Mr Autagavaia tells me that,
"One solution, used in parts of Europe, is for the State to not regulate marriage, and make it purely a civil contract. After registering their civil contract with the State, couples, whether same-sex or heterosexual, can then go and perform whatever ceremony they want. That way the State doesn't need to define marriage, and couples are free to celebrate their union however they want."
I also think that the argument that this will be the 'straw that breaks the camel's back', in relation to the relationship between the Labour Party and the 'Pacific Community', or will cost the Labour Party the next election is somewhat narrow minded. Many more of us are actually more concerned about how the party seeks to urgently address key issues around the Economy, Education, Health, Poverty, Welfare and Housing, when and if, it will go on to form the next government.