A few weeks ago someone gave me a copy of this interview with John Key. Now the first thing to note is that the article was published by Gaynz.com. Gaynz.com are not a terribly reliable media outlet, and Madeleine would say that they are beneath the term “media outlet”. Hence, much of what is written may be highly inaccurate. Despite this, if John Key did say these things, how should one respond to them? I will endeavour to do this in this post.f
Key states he voted against civil unions because the majority in his electorate were opposed it. This is clearly an inadequate stance, suppose that same-sex sex is wrong, contrary to the laws of God. If this is the case, Key is suggesting that he would follow the beliefs and will of the majority over the beliefs of an omniscient, all knowing, perfectly-good God. This is irrational to say the least. The mistaken views that are popular are more authoritative than the decree of God.
On the other hand, suppose there is nothing wrong with same-sex sex. Suppose that discriminating against such unions is on par with discriminating against inter-racial unions. Then Key is suggesting he would follow the racial prejudices of the majority even though he abhors this prejudice himself.
Such a position is bizarre. For my part I expect legislators to be people of integrity and have the courage of their convictions to stand against evil and injustice even when it is unpopular to do so.
Key dismisses the argument that “civil unions undermine marriage” in a far too cavalier manner. Though I myself do not endorse this argument, I believe a critique of it should be based on an accurate and fair interpretation which must also be a valid argument. Key’s is neither. Key responds by saying, “I have been married for 22 years and the fact that a gay couple may choose to have a Civil Union would have absolutely no impact on my marriage to my wife”. But that is not the issue. Opponents of civil unions claimed it would undermine the institution of marriage not that it would under mine one particular person’s marriage.
Of course Key is not alone in dismissing the arguments of others simply by a cavalier caricature, but this fact does not alter the spuriousness of doing so.
Key states “I don’t care what people’s sexual preferences are” and states that a persons sexual preference “is their business and their business alone.” Several things can be said here; first whether Key cares about an issue is irrelevant. The issue is whether certain actions are right or wrong and this is not determined by Key’s personal feelings.
Second, if a person’s “sexual preferences” are “their business alone” why does he have no problem with the State solemnising and legally recognising a person’s sexual union. If it is no one else’s business then why is it the states business?
Thirdly, contrary to what Key says, a person’s “sexual preference” is relevant. Some people prefer little children; by definition this is a sexual preference. If Keys’ trite sounding slogan were correct, this is their business alone and no one else’s.
Similarly Key notes that “We have friends who are gay and lesbian, just as we have dozens of friends who are heterosexual.” This may be true but it is beside the point. The fact that you know people who do something does not mean the State should endorse their activity through recognising and solemnising it. I have had friends who sleep around and regularly get intoxicated. Does that mean that the government should set up state funded clinics for those who want casual sex or provide tax payer funded alcohol?
In discussing the origins of same-sex attraction Key states “I believe it is innate. I am not an expert in these areas but I have had all these religious groups in my electoral office trying to argue that this is learned behaviour, personally I believe that is crap.” It is not just religious people who make that claim (and not all religious people do anyway). Socially liberal New York University Sociologist, Dr David Greenberg, in his book “The Construction of Homosexuality” concluded that homosexual conduct is socially learned. He based this on a huge survey of cross-cultural studies. This work may be mistaken, but I think Key is reaching if he thinks his credentials warrant writing off such research as “crap” because of what his consciousness tells him.
Key goes on to note: “I think we largely live in a secular society, I think there are many religions operating in NZ and it is in the best interests of the state to make decisions that are on a secular basis so they don’t discriminate. I’m no supporter of these hard right religions. [For instance,] I was never offered, I would never have accepted any financial support from the Exclusive Brethren. I met them as a constituency MP, as I would meet anyone as a constituency MP on constituency issues as I believe it’s wrong to discriminate.”
There is so much here it is hard to know where to begin.
Key states “we live in a secular society”. This mantra is trotted out by politicians of the left and right continually, but it is spurious. The fact that society currently displays a trait does not mean it ought to display that trait, we currently live in a Labour led society, does Key think that means Labour ought to continue to lead?
Key goes on to state he does not believe in discrimination. However, he then immediately notes that he does not “support hard right religions.” His position is contradictory; unless Key does not support any groups at all (which is clearly false he supports National) he is discriminating against these groups as he is supporting some but not others.
Moreover, legislation by its nature discriminates. A law regulates human conduct, it states that people who engage in certain actions will be censured (incarcerated or fined) while people who do not engage in those actions will not. This is discrimination. Contrary to what Key states discrimination in and of itself is a morally neutral concept. Some types of discrimination are wrong i.e. depriving people of their life on the basis of their race, and others are not, depriving people of liberty because they have committed murder. The fact that such an elementary and obvious point is lost on someone who seeks to lead the country speaks volumes for the intellectual and moral acumen of today’s politicians.
However, Key’s core argument is “I think there are many religions operating in NZ and it is in the best interests of the state to make decisions that are on a secular basis so they don’t discriminate.” The argument here seems to be that because there are many differing religious groups in NZ, it would be discriminatory to base the laws on moral principles taught by only some of these groups. Hence legislation should be based on secular (i.e non-religious) values and ideals.
The problem is that if this argument is not sound. If it were, there is an equally sound argument for the claim that we should not base laws on secular values and ideals.
Consider, there are many secular philosophies operating in NZ. They disagree on all sorts of matters. Compare the Socialist Workers Party with the Objectivist Society, or both with the New Zealand Association of Rationalists and Humanists. Hence, if we follow Key’s logic, to avoid discrimination we need to base laws on “non-secular aims”.
In fact one can push this silly argument further, there are numerous different political parties in NZ, hence to avoid discrimination we should not base laws on the aims or values of any political party. Which means that if elected Prime Minister, Key will not support any National Party policies being implemented.
Does any of the above mean that people should not vote for National? Not necessarily. While Key is clearly mistaken on these issues, it does not follow that he is mistaken on every other issues. Moreover, it could be (lets face it, it is probably the case…) that the alternative to National will contain people who are more mistaken on more issues. John Key has a lot of faults but he has one big tick in his favour, he is not Helen Clark.