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Thursday 09 October 2008

Labour MP Chris Carter: "It's about dignity"

Posted in: Features
By Labour MP Chris Carter - 24th May 2008

Labour's Chris Carter
Imagine having to choose between your partner, your career, or even your country. Imagine going through the trauma of losing your partner, only to find that you have no right to keep the home that you shared together for decades, or even the children that you cared for and raised together.

These are scenarios that GLBT people are forced into every day in countries that do not recognise and protect their freedoms and choices. Luckily, in New Zealand we no longer face such trade-offs between our happiness and a sense of stability in our lives.

Last weekend I acted as a witness to the Civil Union of two close friends from Pakistan, both of whom have settled in New Zealand. They can look forward to a life in this country where their rights as a couple are respected. This gave me a chance to reflect on how much our community has gained from changes under Labour over the last decade. It also reminded me of how fragile the momentum is that we have established.

When Labour came to power in 1999, our relationships were effectively invisible in law; our property and guardianship rights non-existent. Our lives were restricted in ways that denied us the benefits of full citizenship in our own country.

The government has worked hard since then to create a positive culture of equality and rights for all GLBT New Zealanders. These are not just bland commitments in policy, but real-life changes that affect each and every member of our community, rich and poor, young and old.

This year, New Zealanders will go to the polls with a choice of two very different visions for our country. Labours' includes a clear commitment to extending the freedoms, choices and rights that GLBT New Zealanders now enjoy. There is still plenty of work to be done to remove further inequalities and address discrimination that we still face, which is why this year's election is such a critical one for our community. Labour MP Charles Chauvel is currently working to remove the gay panic defence law from the books. New programmes aimed at making schools more responsive to GLBT youth are well underway. The future of this work under a National administration is unclear, to say the least.

The alternative to Labour's vision is a return to the social conservatism and division of the past - one need only take a look at National's front bench to find a group that has long used our community as a punching bag for political support. If this is the face they present as a credible future government for our country, we can safely argue that our interests will not be ranked high on their agenda.

John Key and his front bench voted against all parts of our Civil Union legislation – a conscience vote. Gay New Zealanders can have no confidence that a National-led government will build on the gains that Labour has achieved. Key's Deputy Bill English, like the overwhelming majority of National MPs, openly opposes any moves to prohibit homophobic statements as hate speech, extend the Human Rights Act to protect transgendered Kiwis, or even to consider allowing GLBT New Zealanders to adopt children. Once again, we would be seen as less than full citizens in the eyes of the government, a prospect that should alarm each and every member of our community.

Labour has kept its promise to GLBT New Zealanders. Ours is now a country which affords us the dignity and security of legally recognised relationships, and control of our own property.

National clearly cannot offer our community this level of commitment. For all the talk of 'individual freedom and choice', their record of delivering on these ideals for GLBT New Zealanders is abysmal at best.

So when you go to vote this year, I hope you do so with your dignity in mind.


Labour MP Chris Carter - 24th May 2008