Interview, Bruce Logan, director of the Maxim Institute, The Wire, 95bFM, 14/04/04
Russell Brown: For the second time in the last year, churches are being drawn into debate on the law.
The first time was the prostitution reform bill in which opinion within the church community spanned almost the same spectrum as that of society itself. Now it’s the civil unions bill, which is the subject of an advertising campaign by the United Future party. An ad in last weekends Sunday Star Times declared that the bill was more government "pink think" and evidence of the government imposing its prejudices on other \New Zealanders. So what’s all the fuss about?
The civil unions bill is a proposed law originally in the name of former minister Leanne Dalziel and now, since her fall from grace, under that of junior minister David Benson Pope. It intends to create a formal kind of partnership that can be recognised by the state, one that will be open to same sex couples. And that’s all it does.
The meat is actually in an accompanying omnibus bill that amends dozens of statutes to remove distinctions between married and non-married couples. Civil unions are not marriage. The Marriage Act doesn’t change. But some groups are declaring that the bill will be the end of marriage and the destruction of the family. Chief amongst them is the Maxim Institute, whose rhetoric seems to have a strong influence on the united future line.
The bill, said Maxim director Bruce Logan in a column for the Otago daily times last year, would be the most radical step ever taken towards the deconstruction of societies most important institution, marriage. But is marriage itself really about to disappear?
He joins us now. Hello Bruce.
Bruce Logan: Hi, Russell is it?
RB: Yes it is.
BL: How are you?
RB: Not bad.
RB: Now Bruce, is marriage itself really about to disappear?
BL: Right, not this very moment I don’t think. It’s certainly under duress. But I don’t think its about to disappear.
RB: But, the civil unions bill wont touch the Marriage Act will it? Marriage will only between a man & a woman.
BL: Well, it's what’s in a name. The Civil Union Bill, we don’t know exactly what it holds at the moment, but looking at it's … what I’ve seen on websites which look like what the Civil Union Bill is going to b,e is in fact designed to be marriage under another name. There is no actual practical difference between the proposed civil union and marriage.
RB: But it won't be marriage.
BL: It will be marriage because it's just the fact that it wont be called marriage, it still will have exactly the same legal status as marriage.
RB: The intriguing thing about that of course, is that that status doesn’t tend to come through in the Civil Union Bill itself, which really only establishes a partnership that could be recognised by the state, but in the omnibus bill that comes with it, that changes all the statues and removes those differences. Do you object to both of those equally?
BL: I’m not sure that I object to both of them equally, but I certainly object to both of them yes.
RB: Would there be some contrivance that would meet with your approval - if say the concept of civil unions disappeared, yet unmarried couples got some or all of the rights that married couples get?
BL: Well I’m not sure why unmarried couples should have the rights of married couples. There are a number of misconceptions that need to be cleared up when we’re talking about the relationship between civil unions and marriage. And that is that the argument is that it's discriminatory to deny homosexuals the right to marry. It denies their basic human rights, I think is the argument.
The point is that everybody has the same right to marry, that is marry one person of the opposite sex, that’s what marriage is. To say that homosexuals can’t do that is hardly a denial of their rights because they can marry. See what’s assumed by the argument of human rights, that the homosexuals are being denied human rights, it's already assumed in that particular argument that homosexual relationships are equivalent to the relationships between a man and a woman, and that they have equivalence in fact, and therefore they should have the same status in law.
Now they’re not equivalent in fact. I think its absurd to say that a relationship between a man and a woman is the same as a relationship between two men or two women.
RB: What’s the difference?
BL: Well, if you don’t know the difference, I’m not sure that I … The difference is that a man is man and a woman is a woman and a natural consequence of their union - a normative consequence of their union - is children. The normative consequence of two men and the normative consequence of two women is not children.
RB: But people all the time get married and choose not to have children. People have children outside wedlock.
BL: But that’s beside the point.
RB: There’s no reference in the marriage vows to having children.
BL: It's not a matter of being forced to have children, its not a matter of … The state gives marriage a particular status, not on the basis of rights, but on the status of privilege because it’s in the state's own interest to do so, because a normative product of marriage is children. Whether people have children or not is beside the point. People are not lined up when they get married say are you going to have children, therefore we’ll give you special status.
RB: But you appear to be saying that the sole rational for marriage is to have children.
BL: No, I’m not saying that. The rationale for getting married is various. Why people get married is one thing, what the state does and gives the marriage status is quite another. We're talking about two different things here. The state gives marriage certain status. It has always done that because it's in its own interest to do that because it's in marriage the links of kinship and intergenerational connection, and that’s how children are protected. The state does that because it, quite apart from it being a humane thing to do and good thing to do, it also saves the state a great deal of money.
RB: But surely the fact that there are dozens of references to marriage in the statutes indicates that marriage has a wider significance than that. The state's only interest in marriage is not, its not limited to children.
BL: Well, the states interest in marriage is largely about children.
RB: In a comment you wrote for the Otago Daily tTmes last year, you seemed to dismiss the desire for same sex unions as nothing more than egocentricity. Are we to read that as you denying that two people of the same sex can display enduring love and commitment to each other.
BL: Of course they can display enduring love and commitment to each other but that’s not what the state is interested in. The state is not concerned about whether people love one another. The state is concerned about whether they protect the children that are theirs.
RB: But love does have a bearing in real world situations, such as next of kin rights, if someone is sick or injured. At the moment that’s not there.
BL: Yes it is. It's there, because the state doesn’t need to get involved in that. The fact that people love one another and want to live with one another, there’s plenty of ways to provide for that. We don’t need to have it made equivalent to marriage because it is not equivalent to marriage. See, what same sex couples are asking for is special rights. They’re asking for a change in the definition of marriage in order to suit their own predilections.
RB: I wonder if assumptions about marriage haven’t changed more than you’d be willing to admit. I was best man at a wedding on Saturday and that was everything a wedding ought to be, you know a declaration of enduring love and commitment before family and friends. But the happy couple had been living together for years, and they had two kids. Maybe one or two generations ago that would’ve been scandalous. Yet now it's almost normal, in fact it probably is.
BL: Let's have a good hard long look at that. Two or three generations ago it would’ve been scandalous and it wouldn’t have been very common. It is certainly common today. I imagine just about as many people go into a cohabitating relationship as get married today, perhaps not quite as many, but certainly a lot more than used to. Now the question arises, is this good for a culture?
You see, people just don’t live in isolated units. When people get married you’re making a declaration about your relationship to the culture you are a part of. Now we know that the research is overwhelming. I’m not just talking research in one country, I’m talking research in many, many countries. It clearly states that if people cohabitate and then get married, the divorce rate will probably be four times higher for that particular couple than it will be for people who don’t cohabitate. So, there are a number of consequences that follow on from the devaluation of marriage in a culture. Now we’re talking about how important is marriage to the vitality of a culture and I’m arguing that marriage, a proper understanding of marriage, a high view of marriage is absolutely essential to the vitality and economic performance of a culture.
RB: The reality is out there though there’s not a particularly high view of marriage in modern society. Idiots get married as part of radio station promotions. I would struggle to place that above, for instance, my own relationship: I’m not married, I have children, it’s a loving, long term, very stable home.
BL: Well anecdotal stories are nice and helpful but they’re not statistically valid. The point is that again the overwhelming evidence is that if you go and talk to someone say aged 25, do you expect to be married with children in ten years time, they will say yes, something like almost ninety percent of those people will say yes, I do. So there is an expectation that marriage is still worthwhile and important. Now of course there is a gap between expectation and actual events and eventuality, but nevertheless there is still an event, there is still an expectation and the belief that marriage is significant and important.
RB: Would you, given the chance, reverse the Homosexual Law Reform bill and make gay sex illegal again.
BL: No, because that’s quite a different issue. The fact of … and again, there’s a paradox here. When homosexuality became legal, the argument of the homosexual lobby was ‘keep out of our bedroom’. And I agreed with that. I agreed. I think to make homosexuality illegal is neither in the interest of me, the state or anyone else.
RB: The funny thing is, I looked back yesterday, doing some research. I looked back to 1986 and the years before that - it was discussed for a good fifteen years before that in the parliament. People were saying exactly same thing that you’re saying, saying the law reform would lead to the destruction of the family - well you’re not claiming as people did then it would make us the sodomy capital of the Pacific and so on. But it didn’t happen. Why should we believe you now?
BL: But it did happen you see. You’re missing the point. We have seen not …
RB: And you’re, you’re blaming homosexual law reform for that?!?
BL: No I’m not blaming homosexual law reform for anything.
RB: What are you blaming it for? What did happen? What are you saying?
BL: Well you raised the issue of homosexual law reform. I was saying I was in agreement with that. What I’m saying is that the changing attitudes to sex in our culture and the continuing devaluation of our understanding of marriage, of which homosexuality is only part of that, is bad for a culture.
We have had a huge increase in divorce over the last twenty or thirty years in New Zealand. A huge increase in divorce, a huge increase in child abuse, a huge increase in children being born outside of marriage, a whole raft of social indicators which are in freefall, and which I think can be associated with our misunderstanding and misappropriation and understanding of the role that family and marriage plays in culture.
RB: I think it’s a myth, to some extent, that those things didn’t happen before that. I think they did.
BL: Well it’s not a matter that they didn’t happen before that. Of course they happened.
RB: Child abuse occurred before the mid-80s . There was child abuse.
BL: Yeah well, there’s always been child abuse. I’m saying there has been an increased incidence in all of these things. You just need to look at the stats. That is, in fact, what has been going on. Child abuse is one factor. The point is that we’re moving into one culture now, which misunderstands the important role that marriage and culture plays in the maintenance of freedom in a liberal democracy.
We have a pathology developing in New Zealand in which, a lot of young men, for example, don’t know how to relate to young women because they haven’t grown up in intact families. There is a very, very close relationship between the pathology of the behaviour of young men failing to enter into good relationships with women because they have not grown up with a mother and a father, they haven’t learnt to relate sexually to one another, they haven’t learnt the dynamic of how to treat the opposite sex and so on. Now all of that, I would argue, is irrefutable. The data on that is just overwhelming.
RB: We also had a society where domestic violence wasn’t regarded as a crime and wasn’t reported by police. That’s a change as well Bruce.
BL: Oh yes there are some, I’m not talking about … there are some things we’re we’ve improved.
RB: Just finally, one question. The thing that occurs to me about all of this is, as you have pointed out, marriage is an institution that pre-dates the state, it pre-dates the statutes, it’s endured for so long, I wonder then on the other hand, that you can claim that it's in such mortal danger from the change of one law that doesn’t even affect the Marriage Act.
BL: Marriage is a fragile phenomenon, it needs to be protected by the state.
RB: You’ve also said its none of the states business.
BL: No, no, no, no I didn’t say…I said that marriage is the state's business, because it’s about the protection of children, that’s why it’s given a particular status by the state. I’m saying that sexual behaviour between two people is not specifically the states business. The state has no good reason …
I mean, if Tom and Dick lived together, and they’re just good friends, then the state has no interest in their being together because they offer nothing to the state that they wouldn’t if they were living apart. The fact that two of those men happen to be homosexuals remains exactly the same. They still don’t offer anything to the state that the state should take an interest in.
RB: Right, Bruce we will have to go now, thank you for your time.