Most MP inboxes are again starting to fill up with lobbying emails and letters again on the Marriage Equality Bill. I wouldn’t call it a flood, but there’s a steady stream.
Most of those opposed have introduced a curious new note: they are terrified or outraged that the words “husband” and “wife” are going to be outlawed, or at least expunged from the NZ Statute book. They think this because Family First has done its usual scare-mongering and exaggeration trick, making this their main response to the Select Committee report released this week.
This fear that the language in NZ law was going to be changed was something that appeared in a very small number of submissions, but Family First is making a big deal of it now because the Select Committee has made it absolutely clear that churches won’t be required to do or say anything different, making religious freedom a non-issue.
I have to say I’m tempted to respond by asking which legal reference to “husband” and “wife” is their favourite, as I’m quite certain that my correspondents have only the vaguest notion of what’s actually in the law, but that might be unhelpful.
Of course Louisa’s Bill will affect some other laws if it is passed. In fact in a large majority of cases where NZ law needs to refer to the partners in a marriage it uses the terms “spouse” and “spouses” already. I haven’t noticed people marching in the streets to change this! These laws won’t require any change.
In the minority of cases where “husband” and “wife” are used, the Select Committee’s instruction has been that if it is possible to retain them, and for the law to still make sense once same-sex couples can marry, then that is what should happen. The words have been retained in about three quarters of the places they currently appear.
In the remaining quarter of cases a change is needed to make the law make sense. For example where the law says “the husband and wife” must do a particular thing the wording cannot be intelligibly applied to same-sex married couples. In these cases we have replaced with “both spouses” rather than invent some extraordinarily cumbersome alternative.
I think most people would conclude that Family First is clutching at straws. But shame on them for doing so in a way that misleads and panics others.
Authorized by Kevin Hague, Parliament Buildings, Wellington.
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