In a day of submissions highly charged with emotion the Select Committee on the marriage equality bill has heard from tearful and passionate glbti people and their families of the effect state marginalisation has had on their lives.
It the heart of many of today’s pro-bill submissions were claims that discriminatory laws, exemplified by the Marriage Act denying same sex couples the right to legally marry, and the demeaning of gay people by religious groups, fuel ongoing homophobia with sometimes tragic personal results for glbti people. Nearly all of the submissions against allowing same-sex couples to marry the same as heterosexuals, were from deeply religous organisations and individuals.
Brought up in a Catholic family, Vincent MacBride-Stewart said that after “years of struggle” trying to reconcile Catholic teachings on homosexuality and his own feelings, “at 37 I am still unable to be honest with my parents.” Choking with emotion he recounted his own attempts at suicide and how he lost long-standing and close friends when he came out to them, further isolating him from support.
MacBride-Stewart urged the committee members and their fellow MPs to pass the bill into law. “Allowing marriage sends out a broader message of equality and acceptance,” he said.
He and his partner, Robert Sykes, who also spoke, said they agonised over whether or not to bring their children to the hearing. A number of submitters, particularly lesbians, brought their infants to demonstrate that gay people have children who need the protection of having the law and society fully validate their parents’ relationships. But Sykes and MacBride-Stewart did not bring their children, both of whom are older than infants, saying they did not want them to be in an environment where their parents’ relationship was being put on the line.
Another deeply emotional story was told by Phil Evans who told the hearing that ever since he realised he was not heterosexual “I was forced to live a lie… for my whole life.” Denied the right to get married as his heterosexual peers can, “I even told myself I did not want to get married or have children… but I do,” he sobbed. “I want to live in a society where everyone is accepted for who they are. It should have happened a long time ago… and it would have but for a few selfish people… it is those selfish, ignorant people who have forced me to have to come here,” he charged.
Amongst the presentations in favour of the bill were a straight married couple, John and Angela Fallentine, who wept and were overcome by emotion as they characterised extending the right to marry to same sex couples as yet another small step which was leading New Zealand society on a dangerous path. They likened those steps to the string of individual errors which together led to the death of the passengers of Flight 901 on the slopes of Mt Erebus. “Let’s not head in the wrong direction,” they pleaded after reading aloud the national anthem with emphasis on those parts which mention God.
While professing, as did almost all others opposing gay equality, to love their ‘glbti brothers and sisters,’ under questioning from committee member Moana Mackey the Fallentines agreed that they believed the NZ government should actively legislate exactly what a family could or could not be. In their view that state-approved family would only be based on “both a mother and a father.”
One of the strongest impressions today was made by an extended family (pictured above) who flanked their lesbian daughter, Eleanor Moloney, and her partner, Kyran Kissick. They explained how the pair being marginalised adversely affected them all. The underlying theme of their individual and group presentations, which regularly ground to a halt as they struggled to control their deep emotions, was that they are all part of a gay family. Addressing the lesbian couple’s wish to have children, “there are many children of gay parents who are told through discrimination that their families don’t matter,” they said. They did not want their children or grandchildren or nieces and nephews to experience that destructive sentiment.
Gay documentarian and Auckland community stalwart Stephen Oates struggled to control his feelings as he related the physical bullying and emotional torment he experienced at school when he was targeted as being different from his peers. “The youth of New Zealand know subconsciously that glbt people aren’t treated equally,” he said.
Oates also recounted that in his years as a phone counselor dealing with troubled young gay people “every single person who had been kicked out of their home came from a Christian background. “If this bill does not pass you will be reinforcing bullying and legitimising discrimination,” he said.
Committee chair Ruth Dyson and her fellow MPs regularly reassured those struggling through their feelings that their stories were important to the select committee process and lauded their courage in coming forward to tell them. “We understand that this is probably the hardest thing you have ever done in your life,” Dyson told several submitters.