Conscience votes

It is quite a revelation that a party leader can set policy that isn’t supported by the majority of his (or her) own party.   Bill English was the only one holding out on Israel.

But this is nothing new, as RNZ reports

National leader John Key, soon to be Prime Minister, opposed same-sex marriage at the time. Four years earlier, he – along with all but three National MPs – voted against civil unions.

“Civil unions took ages,” Ms Baker says. “I thought marriage equality would take even longer.”

But change did come in National’s second term. In 2012, then-US President Barack Obama publicly endorsed marriage equality.

Mr Key tentatively followed, though said it wasn’t a priority.

But in a timely twist, Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Marriage Equality Bill was pulled from the ballot just two months later.

The next year, MPs voted 77 to 44 in favour of the bill. Within National, the split was 27 for, 32 against.

“I couldn’t quite believe it was happening,” Ms Renwick says. “It’s awesome … For me, it’s about being equal and being acknowledged.”

During its nine years in power, National has gradually shifted its stance on LGBTI issues. Mr Key cemented the Big Gay Out as a regular event on his political calendar, though he was glitter-bombed and booed off stage by Trans-Pacific Partnership protesters at the 2016 event.

In February, the government unveiled a scheme allowing people with historical homosexual convictions to apply to have them wiped.

In his valedictory speech, Mr Key identified the same-sex marriage bill as one he was pleased had been drawn and glad he’d supported.

Commentators have suggested his open endorsement buoyed the ‘yes’ vote by giving his National colleagues the political cover to add their support.

But Ms Renwick and Ms Baker are less effusive.

“I don’t think it’s a National thing,” Ms Baker says.

“It’s the parliamentary sector that actually decided, okay, let’s do it together.”

And ultimately the credit belongs to Labour MP Louisa Wall, she says.

“It’s always a woman than determines change.”

The couple are also very aware the current Prime Minister Bill English did not support marriage equality – though he says he’s now changed his mind.

“I’d like to say I’m hopeful,” Ms Renwick says.

“But maybe we’ll see.”

Both Death with Dignity and Medical Marijuana are conscience votes.  And it remains to be seen that the “National party” position on these, as proposed by Bill English, is really where the true support lies when placed at each individual MP’s feet.

I’m aware of several MPs that are canvassing their electorates and they will vote for what the electorate tells them to vote for.  That makes it partially a public referendum.  Sadly, not all MPs are that smart, with some swimming upstream and desperately holding on to their own personal views.

One thing is for sure – both of these issues will become possible in future.  If not under this government, then certainly under another.



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