Saturday, June 9, 2012
Mike Butler: Tide turning for same-sex couples?
Is there an actual tide of feeling, or is it that the tide of feeling involves a few luminaries (United States President Barack Obama, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, and now Mau) supporting same-sex marriage for political or other reasons?
Appearance seems to eclipse reality when it comes to this issue. For instance, opinion poll organisation Gallup found that while on average United States adults estimated that 25 percent of Americans were gay or lesbian, in fact only 4 percent of all those surveyed in 2011 and about 8 percent of those surveyed in 2002 correctly guessed that fewer than 5 percent of Americans identify as gay or lesbian.
One explanation for this mismatch between perception and reality has been attributed, perhaps tongue in cheek, to the numerous gays on television, where a disproportionate number of characters in TV sitcoms and dramas are homosexual. A second factor is that homosexuality features disproportionately as a theme in movies and books. In this instance, culture eclipses reality.
Figures from New Zealand’s 2006 census show that same-sex couples make up fewer than 1 percent of all couples in New Zealand. The numbers of homosexual men living together rose slightly from the 2001 Census to reach 0.3 percent in 2006, while the number of homosexual women cohabiting made up 0.4 percent of all couples living together. Numerically this means that there were 3516 female couples and 2655 male couples living together in 2006, compared with 867,696 couples of the opposite sex.
The 2004 Civil Unions Act allowed New Zealand same-sex couples many of the same rights as married couples. This near-equality is a relatively recent development since sex between men was only decriminalised in 1986.
To illustrate the low uptake on civil unions, I worked as a wedding DJ, and of the 240 weddings done between 2004 and 2012 I entertained at just one “two brides” celebration and zero “two grooms” events.
Close Up revealed the results of a ONE News Colmar Brunton poll that revealed nearly two-thirds support for same-sex marriage. Asked if they think same-sex couples should be able to get married, 63 percent of respondents said yes, 31 percent said no and 6 percent did not know or preferred not to say.
Carey Baptist College vice principal Laurie Guy admitted on Close Up that it is quite likely Christians will just have to accept same-sex marriage, and said he thinks the church is probably losing the debate.
That may be true, but it does not mean that churches would be required to deviate from doctrine if there are doctrinal and biblical reasons to oppose same-sex marriage. Despite the fact that 63 percent of poll respondents said yes to same-sex marriage, if same-sex couples make up under 1 percent of all couples in New Zealand, church leaders or marriage celebrants who did not agree to it would not face many requests from same-sex couples, and if they did, could just say no.
On the other hand, for those vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage, were it enacted, because it would involve so few people, it would make hardly any difference at all.
If liberal politicians feel pressed to legislate for same-sex marriage, they would still have to contend with dictionary definitions of marriage. The Concise Oxford Dictionary says marriage is the “condition of man and woman legally united for purpose of living together and usually procreating lawful offspring” or “the act or ceremony or procedure establishing this condition”.
By definition, marriage involves a man and a woman, usually for procreation. Same-sex couples cannot procreate; therefore legalized same-sex marriage could only refer to the ceremony and legal benefits, if any.
Of course, legislators could re-define “marriage” in legislation, and if they wished to go further, they could set about re-writing dictionaries. But, they would have a more difficult task re-defining and re-writing people’s prejudices.
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at 9:11 AM