Marriage: Equality, abolition, and the Mana movement

June 21, 2012

Ian Anderson

The marriage equality discussion has found increased currency in recent months with US president Barack Obama coming out in support of same-sex marriage. MPs Louisa Wall and Kevin Hague, of Labour and the Greens respectively, both have bills in the ballot box supporting same-sex marriage and adoption.

This country has a different legal situation to the US. Health insurance is less of an issue due to our primarily public health system, while Civil Unions largely provide an equivalent to marriage. However same-sex couples do not enjoy the right to adopt; in fact the Adoption Act has not been amended since 1955.

Aiming to remove the last legal distinctions, the marriage equality group “Legalise Love” focuses on two key demands; the right to marry, and the right to adopt. Legalise Love has been criticised for its lack of community engagement. At their 2012 AGM, Legalise Love passed a new set of goals, including building a stronger relationship with other community groups, and “maintaining a healthy working relationship with the state.” In practice this means acting as a Labour Party lobby group, while trying to win over the progressive sections of other parties, and ensuring state sanction for actions such as marches.

Legalise Love is looking increasingly likely to win its two key demands. However, progressives must be on guard, as conservatives will rally their troops in the lead-up to the bill.

During the 1986 Homosexual Law Reform campaign, Labour MP Fran Wilde privately warned against militant street tactics. However, the anti-gay Coalition of Concerned Citizens caught supporters by surprise, launching a nationwide petition against the bill which necessitated a more confrontational approach. Polls indicate that 60% of New Zealanders favour equal marriage, including 79% of 18-30 year olds, and progressives must be ready to fight for this reform.

Marriage reform or marriage abolition?

Some question the institution of marriage itself. Marriage is an institution designed to regulate kinship relations, which until the 1980s legalised rape within marriage in this country. An article on gay website Aaron and Andy jokingly described Legalise Love as having “a myopic obsession with hetero-assimilation.” On her Facebook page Annette Sykes also raised that Western marriage was imposed on Maori through colonisation, replacing previous kinship structures.

Members of the Queer Avengers, a Wellington activist group, have differing views on marriage. The group aims to fight queer oppression in a multi-faceted way not limited to legal reforms - dealing with street violence, youth homelessness and transphobia in the media. Some Queer Avengers have joined Legalise Love, while others call for repeal of the Marriage Act. The group has agreed that while members have different views on marriage itself, there should be no legal discrimination between same-sex and opposite-sex couples.

An article by Dougal McNeill, on the International Socialist Organisation (ISO) website noted this contradiction: “many of the best LGBT campaigners have been lukewarm about, and sometimes openly antagonistic, towards the question of equal marriage rights… It’s understandable why this is the case - why fight for a reactionary institution like marriage, when its a pillar of sexism and the nuclear family, sustaining heterosexist ideas?”

McNeill noted that this is a question of principle, and civil rights: “A campaign for equal marriage rights shouldn’t be seen as primarily about marriage, but about rights.”

Although the Workers Party does not have a determined position beyond support for marriage equality, an article in the August 2011 issue of the Spark argued: “Sections of the ruling class may support gay marriage, but they retain the right to maintain property relations by regulating consensual relationships… While the Marriage Act exists, we must support progressive reforms. Ultimately, we must aim for abolition of the Marriage Act.”

This is comparable to the question of oppressed groups participating in the imperialist military; we fight for civil rights in even the most bankrupt institutions.

Hone Harawira and Mana

Socialist groups including the Workers Party committed to helping build the Mana movement last year, as we view it as a class split from the Maori Party and it represents the demands of the oppressed. However in recent months, party leader Hone Harawira’s social conservatism has raised questions about the progressive nature of Mana.

In an interview with Bryce Edwards, Harawira explained “I’m actually politically radical but socially very conservative.” With two bills for marriage equality in the ballot box, this has now become a more pressing question. The key issue is not what Harawira personally believes, but what politics the movement supports. Mana contains many takataapui and pro-LGBT progressives, so a vote against the bill would have a divisive impact.

Mana has already passed a Rainbow Policy, which supports the extension of marriage and adoption rights to same-sex couples. In a recent post on his blog Maui Street, Morgan Godfery argued:

I don’t think Hone will be able to maintain his position. Party pressure will be considerable. On the small chance Hone remains steadfast though, his former party provides a salient illustration of what happens when you ignore your members.

This coming period will test the internal democracy of the Mana movement. Progressives within Mana must seek both to reaffirm the Rainbow Policy, and ensure that this is not treated as a “conscience vote.”


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