One fact that always seems to be overlooked in the debate over gay rights is that it actually impacts the rights of straight couples, too. Laws that reform the way we view couples to include gay rights- such as our own Civil Unions bill- have generally also extended new rights to straight couples. Not only can a straight couple now receive pretty much the same benefits as marriage without the heteronormal religious overtones, but de facto couples, regardless of sexuality, now have additional rights and protections that they were not afforded before because they are automatically considered equivalent to civil unions after a period of time.
Likewise- laws that protect “family values” tend to do the opposite- They aim to enshrine marriage as gender-specific, when it already is. They overextend themselves to taking away rights and protections from couples that are committed and may even have children, but aren’t married. Or they make adoption harder, don’t allow equal access to adopted kids, prevent co-adoption by unmarried couples, or make things even more difficult for single parents.
The other issue is that they often imply that marriage ought to be universal. Trying to imply that everyone ought to be happily married and popping out kids actually undermines marriage on its own- marriage is hard. It involves a very high level of commitment, compromise, and understanding from both partners. It involves choosing a good partner. In short, we should be encouraging good marriages, but that’s at odds with assuming everyone will get married. Because not everyone is ready for it. Some are, but they’ve not got a good partner. Some will never be ready for marriage. That’s part of why I feel that denying gay marriage is so wrong- when two people really do love each other well enough to spend their lives together, that’s so precious that it deserves celebrating no matter how weird you might find the people involved or the nature of their relationship.
The battle for gay civil rights is far from over in New Zealand, too. Right now there is no way for gay couples to legally adopt children, meaning that they have to resort to artificial insemination to become parents. That’s even ignoring gay marriage.
Personally speaking, I think gay marriage is inevitable, but I think enshrining it in the law is the wrong way to go. It would make far more sense to redefine marriage as a civil union with religious blessing, and then leave the fight over equal rights to the churches and other similar institutions themselves. Because really, most of the opposition seems to be in taking away the decision from religions. I agree they should have to make the decision. And I have confidence that eventually we’ll get them to make the right one, and that doing so will let us open our eyes to the reproductive and social rights we need to extend to everyone, straight or gay, couple or single.