The Marriage Equality Bill has brought out the best in some people and the worst in others. There appears to be a failure in understanding about what this bill proposes.
The key feature of this bill is changing the legal definition of marriage to reflect the broader relationships prevalent in our society, it is not about whether or not you believe same sex couples should be allowed to get married. The definition would simply remove the reference to ‘between a man and a woman’ and would simply read ‘between two people’.
It appears that what has sparked the debate is the framing of the issue: whether same sex couples should be allowed to get married? Whereas, the more pertinent question is: whether marriage equality is a right that requires protection under the law ?
When we start asking questions about same sex marriage we elicit moral responses about a persons personal belief as to whether same sex marriage is right or wrong. On the other hand, when we ask questions about marriage equality we elicit responses that are formed on an objective basis. Marriage equality advocates for the legal recognition of marriage to be indiscriminate. If a person thinks marriage should discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender then that position must be justified because any law that perpetuates inequality must have a reason that is justifiable in a free and democratic society, thereby requiring a rational basis for that discrimination. Arguments from morality, religion or social preference will not properly found a rational basis for justifying discrimination.
Additionally, we must remember that we have anti-discrimination laws under the Human Rights Act 1993 and the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990. These provisions are intended to protect minority groups from discrimination. It makes no sense then that those who oppose the Marriage Equality Bill are calling for a majority vote on this issue. This in effect renders our anti-discrimination laws meaningless. It does this by saying the majority can determine the rights of minorities which is inherently discriminatory and fails to fulfil the purpose of protecting minority groups.