Monday, September 06, 2004

Equal rights for all couples

Having previously railed against confusing the Civil Union and Relationships (Statutory References) Bills, Big News now seems happy to deliberately conflate them in the service of bigotry. Using the example of a lesbian couple who have been together for two months, he asks "should this couple have equal rights as married couples now, later, or not at all?", and points out that "Michael Cullen has said that the Civil Union legislation is designed to recognise those in long term relationships", not short-term ones. But what rights are acquired by de facto couples and when are questions about the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill which have very little to do with civil unions or gays.

I've previously agreed that there are valid questions to be asked about the rights of de facto couples, and that in some cases a threshhold time (as used in the Property Relationships Act) may be appropriate. But what is absolutely clear is that a) the rules should be completely blind to the gender of a couple; and b) that the rights of de facto couples should (after some period of time) be substantively equal to those of married and civil unioned couples unless there is explicit "contracting out". Relationship rights do not come from god - they exist by virtue of the relationship and its implied consent. Marriage and civil unions simply make this consent explicit and concrete. If people don't want to have the ceremony and the piece of paper, that's fine - but it should not adversely affect their legal standing with respect to one another and the community as a whole.

Given the increased prelevance of de facto relationships, we would need the Relationships (Statutory References) Bill anyway to tidy up their legal situation (and some of this work has already been done in other legislation). And if it had not been coupled to the Civil Union Bill, I expect it would have been fairly uncontroversial (or no more controversial than the amendments to the Property Relationships Act). Unfortunately, because the two bills have been presented together, it is now being tarred by the religious right as a gay attack on the institution of marriage and attacked as a way of limiting the rights and status of civil unioned couples. We should not allow this to happen. While the bill itself may need tweaking, its goal of substantive equality for all couples is something that deserves support.

As for Big News, his obsession with gays and lesbians says more about him and his backward attitudes than it does about the bill in question.