On referenda, NZ First and minorities

Last week the NZ First youth spokesperson, Curwen Rolinson, stood in front of cameras as part of the Campaign for Marriage Equality’s coalition of youth political wings. Along with representatives from National, Labour, Greens, ACT, Māori and Mana, he signed the big happy queer love banner.

When questioned on the legitimacy of his presence at the event, given his Party’s was voting “no” on marriage equality, he said that he and many other young NZ First members hoped for a “yes” vote on a marriage equality referendum.

But there is no referendum. Mr Rolinson sidestepped into an event about equality on the supposed merits of something which does not exist. Even if a unicorn referendum did exist, its presence wouldn’t guarantee the legislation to pass. But despite this, NZ First is somehow attempting to be friends to the queers while playing Switzerland to the bigots. And I’m calling them the fuck out on that.

Anyone who represents a party which unanimously voted “no” on my rights and thinks that every single person in New Zealand should decide whether I’m allowed rights in the first place, does not get to show at a press event and try and get kudos from the queers. Not even if you’re dressed as an extra from Saturday Night Fever.

NZ First, bastions of freedom and equity that they are (for people who aren’t migrants, sex workers, in receipt of any ‘ethnicity-based hand-outs’ or Brendan Horan), apparently really love referendums. ALL the referendums. On everything. Except for all the Bills they’ve voted “yes” for this term. Which includes the other conscience vote on raising the alcohol purchasing age.

Because apparently for NZ First, none of these issues were important enough to put to the people of New Zealand. But marriage equality – despite their stated issue with the Bill being one of process and not judgement – was so important for every single (predominantly straight) citizen, that they voted “no”. Not an abstention out of principled protest for more “democratic engagement”. But a “no”.

Winston’s speech on the night of the second reading referenced how awful it was when MPs decide things on behalf of New Zealanders. Despite the fact he’s completely missed the point of representative democracy, he’s also hilariously hypocritical given he decided something on my behalf.

NZ First’s proposed referenda system invites paternalism and allows people who are not marginalised by the issue at hand to determine the fate of those who are.  I fundamentally do not believe that the majority should vote on the rights of a minority, or a group who are marginalised. I also don’t think we should ever have a referendum on affording rights if withholding them is a noted human rights discrimination.

On issues which affect the whole country – a constitution, republicanism, the country’s assets – referenda make sense. Do I think we should have binding referenda or automatic referenda on issues that affect the whole country? No. I think the process for citizens initiated referenda are fine as they are under this system. They require proof that this issue is important to enough people to warrant the cost spent on a nationwide vote, and they serve to send a message to those who we have given our confidence to make binding decisions on our behalf.

Yes, there are fatal flaws in just how representative our Old White Manlient Parliament actually is. But rehauling our democratic system is a whole different discussion to whether parties can cop out from votes they’re uncomfortable with by stating the whole country should have binding referendum on them.

And that is what NZ First has done. They’ve copped out. They’ve chosen to invoke their apparent Party line on whether a minority of people can marry the person they love. And their Party line is not one of abstention for preference of referendum. It’s a resounding, unanimous, “no”.

And it’s an inconsistent “no”. They didn’t say it to the alcohol purchasing age Bill, they didn’t say it on amendments it finance, corrections and numerous other legislation. They don’t stop and ask for a referendum on the bills they draft for the ballot. They said it to gay marriage.

This laudably inconsistency is an act of bigotry by stealth. And stealth bigots, or those who defend them, have no place fronting any part of the Campaign for Marriage Equality. If you think every single person in this country should get to decide on my human rights, then you can take your magical invisible referendum and stick it in the same century as Curwen’s hair.

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