The Redefinition of Marriage Bill is very controversial and opinion deeply divided in New Zealand (47% support; 43% believe Civil Unions sufficient). It is a radical proposed change not only to our law but also our culture. It radically affects future children. It removes concepts such as “husband” and “wife.”
Winston Peters and Colin Craig (NZF and Conservative) have both said it should go to a referendum,
Jul 31, 2012 “… We believe it should be by way of referendum.” (Winston Peters).
Aug 4, 2012 “I’m confident that a referendum is the right way to go, and if it came out with that decision then I would move absolutely forward with it.” (Colin Craig).
I agree a referendum on such a controversial issue, is the right way to go. So does NZ. In the poll this week by Curia for Family First NZ, more than half of respondents said it should go a binding referendum (and this contention is strongest amongst identifying Labour supporters).
Half (49%) of NZ’ers believe there should be a Binding Referendum on the issue (mostly amongst Labour supporters)
I have suggested to several MPs that it is worth testing an amendment to the bill, that it go to a referendum at the next election.
This is unlikely, as:
- National look to want this off the books asap and as distant from the 2014 election as possible,
- Labour generally support the bill and think they can squeak it through, and
- Some in the Rainbow community fear what the public might actually say.
However, if put up as a motion to the House, any MPs voting down the right of the public to express their view in a referendum (as more adequate feedback to the Parliament by the people on such a radical proposal) would be backed into an indefensible corner. They would also suffer fallout with constituents (List MPs being exempt from that).
But being such a radical proposal in law, why wouldn’t we? What are MPs afraid off? The people? We’ve had several referendums in the past, and this marriage proposal falls well inside the criteria for it being put to public opinion. It is totally radical.
- 9 March 1949 Allow off-course betting and six o’clock closing
- 3 August 1949 Compulsory military training
- 23 Sept. 1967 six o’clock closing
- 5 September 1997 Compulsory Retirement Savings Scheme
- Between 1967 – 2011 five referendums on reforming the electoral system
- Alcohol reform is regularly put on the ballot, sometimes locally.
The 1993 Citizens Initiated Referedum Act allows private citizens to initiate a referendum if they can gather approx. 340,000 signatures. The first was by firemen in 1995, “Should the number of professional fire-fighters employed full-time in the New Zealand Fire Service be reduced below the number employed in 1 January 1995?”
In 2008 Sheryl Savill successfully petitioned for a referendum on “Should a smack as part of good parental correction be a criminal offence in New Zealand?”
In 2009 MP Larry Baldock initaed a petition “Should Parliament be required to pass legislation that implements the majority result of a citizens initiated referendum where that result supports a law change?” but this lapsed.
So, betting, pub closing times, numbers of firemen, smacking, alcohol, military training, electoral systems, these have all been considered vital enough to warrant national opinion in a referendum. Why not whether to Redefine Marriage? It seems a no-brainer to me. What are MPs afraid of, that the public express their opinion on their own society and how it is nuanced?