Conscience vote challenges human integrity

The challenge to the representative role of Chinese, Korean, and Indian Members of Parliament (the only ethnic groups represented in the current parliament) was brought into sharp focus in two conscience votes cast last fortnight.

One vote related to the Marriage Amendment Bill and the other related to the Alcohol Reform Bill.

The Marriage Amendment Bill makes it possible for any couple, regardless of sexual orientation, to make a commitment to each other. This is a private members Bill and a conscience issue, a process by which members vote on the basis of their individual choice and on Party lines.

Parliament provides no guidance as to how a member should cast a conscience vote. I developed a process for myself seeking the opinions of as many people as possible from our ethnic communities.

Marginalised community

I also consulted members of the gay community, including those from an ethnic background and subjected myself to introspection.

While I found a sizable opinion amongst ethnic New Zealanders that supported this Bill, there was also a significant opinion opposing it.

Members of the ethnic gay community felt marginalised by their own community and saw few advocates for their interests.

What surprised me was the jaundiced view about gay couples and the belief that religious scriptures forbade such relationships. Some others felt this was an attack on the institution of marriage and on family life.

Others had advanced the view that this Bill would result in the demand for polygamy and other forms of marriage.

Legal status

New Zealand made a decision to legalise gay relationships in 1986, long before the merits-based immigration policies that account for our current ethnic diversity.

The Marriage Amendment Bill is not about re-litigating this decision.

This is not a call for other forms of marriage.

That is just scaremongering.

This view shows little appreciation of the nature of our democratic liberal traditions and acceptance of all citizens. This is the same New Zealand characteristic that welcomed us as immigrants and extended protection of the state enjoyed by all New Zealanders no matter when they arrived here.

As migrants, these are the traditions that have attracted us to New Zealand. Rather constraining, we must protect the rights of others and call on everyone to deliver their responsibilities that such rights demand.

My second step in the thinking process was to look at my own background and experiences.

Upholding Rights

New Zealand bestowed on me the role of a Human Rights Commissioner for five years. In that role, I was beholden to uphold the rights of all peoples at all times.

I therefore asked myself if there were any rights that this Bill was seeking to take away from anybody. The answer clearly was ‘No.’

If it did, I would have had to address that proposition.

As a Member of Parliament, I am required to vote for laws that are fair, just and workable. I am required to make laws for New Zealand and all its citizens.

The rights of our citizens are important. I have difficulty in understanding those seeking to take away the rights of others who want to demonstrate their commitment to each other in the same institution to which we are committed.

I do not accept this weakens our families and our way of life.

In the end, it was the right decision and no one loses out on anything.

Those religious leaders I consulted convinced me that our scriptures are full of important messages about acceptance and diversity.

Let us live those sentiments.

Dr Rajen Prasad is Member of Parliament on Labour List and the Party’s spokesperson for Ethnic Affairs. The Private Member’s bill of Labour MP Louisa Wall (pictured) seeking amendment to the Marriages Act has generated nationwide debate for and against gay marriages. You may send your opinions to

Photo : Labour MP Louisa Wall

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