The Civil Union Debate
The current legislation before parliament which seeks to create access to “civil union” for both heterosexuals and gays has generated a lot of heat among liberals and conservatives. Are we talking Stormtroopers-in-a-teacup here? We argue that it is necessary to support this legislation as a civil right and take a stand against rightwing neo-conservative campaigns such as that of the Destiny Church.
Neocons or fascists?
Despite the alarmists, Pastor Brian Tamaki and his followers are not fascists. While in the recent march in Wellington Destiny Church members wore black and kept waving their fists in the air, black shirts and one-armed salutes by themselves are not fascist, any more than having a number 2 haircut is a sign of descent into such behavior. To be fascists Destiny Church would have to mobilise violently against not only gays and lesbians, but jews, migrants, and most of all communists.
During the heyday of fascism in the 1930’s Trotsky wrote that fascism arises in response to extreme crisis and organises the ruined middle class into a political movement to smash the labour movement to prevent a socialist revolution. “Fascism has for its basic and only task the razing to their foundations of all institutions of proletarian democracy.”(See L. Trotsky, Struggles Against Fascism in Germany.p. 159). The Destiny Church marchers are stormtroopers-in-a-teacup and fall far short of a fascist movement.
The Destiny Church are fundamentalist Christians. A bunch of narrow minded, bigoted individuals who like to worship so-called “family values.” Of course, when they talk of families they mean what they define as a family. Their notion of Mum, Dad and 2.5 children is some sort of throwback to a by-gone era which never really existed anyway. While glorifying a 1950’s heterosexual nuclear family structure they seem to conveniently forget that within this structure domestic abuse and abuse of children was often ignored and sometimes tolerated.
They also pick and choose their rules and values from the bible with gay abandon (pun intended), discounting what they don’t like (I bet Brian eats pork) and taking with extreme literalism what can only be described as cultural prohibitions written for a culture which existed a couple of thousand years ago.
They represent the extreme end of a wedge in our society which seeks to fetishise and almost deify the family. In this respect they are the wet dream of capitalists, who know these fanatics with their quasi-Calvinist work ethic are willing wage slaves given that they need to support their families. They help keep the wheels of capitalism turning and oil the machinery of their own oppression.
10% for Jesus on a Harley
Brian Tamaki is a businessman and the Destiny Church is like similar churches all over the world run along capitalist lines with the focus being on “strong leaders” (who are usually wealthy living off their members’ ‘tithes’ on their wages). Their approach to dealing with inequality is to look to charity as a way of helping out rather than questioning the structures in society that gives raise to the inequality in the first place.
It comes as no surprise that fundamentalists in the United States are squarely behind George Bush. They not only share his right wing moral views, they also bleat on about “personal responsibility.” If you are in the gutter, it is because you have put yourself there (or god has to test you). But the good news is that with god’s help you can be “blessed” with wealth. They see nothing wrong with being rich; in fact it is merely a sign that you are in the favour of the almighty.
From a sociological point of view, Tamaki is a recognizable and well-studied type. His church is largely a personality cult which revolves around him. He may be genuine, but it is probably the case that his followers are as much converted to him as fundamentalist Christian beliefs. Studies have shown that churches such as these often revolve around a central charismatic figure like Tamaki.
One morning, up early and watching TV for some reason I glanced at the Tamaki Tele-vangelist show. Brian was praising a couple who had been to a meeting he held in Rotorua, and had been so impressed they sold everything and moved to Auckland so they could attend the Destiny church and be closer to Brian. They seemed to delight in such menial tasks as parking the big man’s car. This cannot be healthy!
Smite the deviants - save the family
They are the most visible face of opposition to the civil union legislation. The extent of the opposition has surprised many. Although most of those opposed do not subscribe to the extreme platform of the Destiny Church members, they are clearly not happy with gays and lesbians having some sort of state recognition of their relationships.
Many people seem to believe legislation such as the Civil Union bill signifies what is wrong in our society. Everything from crime and young people out of control to teen pregnancies are pointed to as examples of societal decay. Words like “promiscuous” and “immorality” have made a comeback. These terms haven’t had such a strong airing since the Homosexual law reform debate of 1985-86. It’s worth noting that many of the critics of that legislation predicted the imminent collapse of New Zealand society as a result of the passing of that legislation.
Rather than turning their anger on the real enemy (the capitalist system) they put their energy into fighting a battle against human nature. They fail to see that crime and other social ills are largely the result of a system which is manifestly unjust.
Steven Franks: Arthur or Martha?
And where are the liberals of the right on this issue? Right-wingers like Steven Franks don’t know whether they’re Arthur or Martha. Franks sees gays and Lesbians as just another group of consumers, but he also knows many of Acts supporters subscribe to a right-wing moral ideology.
Speaking on Linda Clarke’s Nine to Noon programme on Tuesday 24 August, Franks was all over the show saying he would support this bit of the legislation but not another part of it. He was clearly uncomfortable and so he should be. His hypocritical position shows up the internal contradictions of the Act party. On one hand they like to paint themselves as the “liberal” party, in favour of freedom, but when the crunch comes they retreat back into the shadows of the right. There freedom clearly extends to only to certain people and certain ‘acts’.
But while the right is largely united against the legislation, the left is divided.
The left positions can be broadly summarized into three groupings.
The first (and largest) are those who support the legislation, such as gay MP Chris Carter. The second are those who believe that the Bill doesn’t go far enough and it should be marriage or nothing. Marilyn Waring spoke against the legislation at Select Committee hearings on the grounds that it was not giving equality to gays and lesbians (in that they were still excluded from marriage). The third point of view tends to find favour amongst radical gays and lesbians who don’t want to buy into heterosexual structures such as marriage.
These views all have valid points. Marriage is a bourgeoisie institution, so on that point there can be some agreement with the “queer” activists. And because ‘civil unions’ is not marriage, Marilyn Waring is right in this respect, that there will be inequality for gays and lesbians in the law.
Finally the Carter position that the legislation is a step forward for gays and lesbians is valid. After all, why should gays and lesbians be excluded from having their relationships recognized, even if it is by a state that props up a system of capitalist inequality.
It is interesting to note that when briefing papers were first put before Attorney General Margaret Wilson, one proposal, perhaps the most radical, was for the state to endorse a form of civil unions and for marriage to be consigned to a secondary position. This would mean people could go to a church to marry if they wanted but the state would have it’s own endorsement which would take precedence.
This idea would not rest comfortably with a lot of people because it strikes at many people’s aforementioned idealisation of marriage.
So, should workers support the civil union legislation.
Yes we should. The right of all couples to have a civil union which is recognized by the state, regardless of whether they are gay, lesbian or straight, is an extension of democratic civil rights.
The fact that ‘civil union’ gives couples legal equality without the need for marriage must be a good thing. It undermines the institution of marriage, and with it the often repressive gender relations that marriage sanctions. Anything that hastens the end of the bourgeois family is to be welcomed!
We need to recognize the nature of the attacks against the legislation for what they are. They attack the gay and lesbian community and single them out for lies and hatred. This was the case in 1985 when Homosexual Law reform was before Parliament and it is the case now. These are done in the name of ‘family values’ that reinforce the family as a bulwark of capitalist oppression. We need to defend our gay brothers and lesbian sisters from these attacks and stand with them against the bigots.
The fundmentalist attack on ‘civil unions’ today might under conditions of social crisis in the future become part of a more general reactionary attack on the democratic rights of all minorities. To prevent such a generalised reaction from becoming a full blown fascism workers have to organize to stamp out all expressions of intolerance and hatred now.
Nor should we foster any illusions that the capitalist state can ever deliver freedom from oppression for gays and lesbians. When the working class mobilises to get rid of the capitalist state and create a new society, individuals will no longer need the crutch of religion, and will be able to freely associate in ‘unions’ of their choice without discrimination.
From Class Struggle 57 August-September 2004