Ears on the Wall Syndrome: The agony and the ecstasy...

17 August 2012

It has come to my attention that some of our high profile community leaders have arranged a series of seminars, especially for Pacific Islanders, in relation to Louisa Wall’s Marriage Equality Bill.

Dr Featuna'i Liua'ana and author of Ears on the Wall syndrome

Dr Featuna’i Liua’ana

According to a press release recently, the organising team calls on all leaders and members of the New Zealand Pacific community to engage respectfully and sensitively with one another in the exchanges of views over the Marriage Equality Bill….The Bill in essence, is seeking to end the discrimination against same-sex marriages….This is not an attack on the institution of marriage or the traditional values of Pacific people. Rather, it is advocating for the fundamental right and choice of every New Zealander in a loving and honourable relationship to formally and legally marry….Understanding these aspects of the debate, amongst others, is vitally important for us going forward.”

The initiative, on one hand, is commendable, albeit late in coming, and one that would at least bring to a closure the debate around Louisa Wall’s bill before it is put to a vote in Parliament. But, on the other hand, it has made me uncomfortable at the way Pacific Islanders have been targeted regarding this bill. Why single out the Pacific Island communities as the group most in need to be educated on this issue? Allow me to speculate. Is it because the others are well informed on the issue, or is it because Pacific Islanders choose to reject the bill, so they need to be convinced otherwise? If not, is it because Pacific Islanders have strong Christian beliefs, which has made it difficult to convince them to endorse same-sex marriage, and if that is the case, why not organise similar seminars for members of other major religions; maybe for Moslems? But, I don’t think that will happen, and you can figure out the maths why.

But if it is just the language barrier then why aren’t some of the other ethnic groups who could barely understand any words of English targeted, or is it the old colonial mentality that Pacific Islanders don’t know how to think for themselves and needs to have things explained to them? As I have said before, Pacific Islanders are more intelligent than most people give them credit. They can digest and process information and make sensible and informed decisions about the issues at hand. And that has been the case over the last three weeks. Pacific Island communities have “engage respectfully and sensitively with one another in the exchange of views” under the guidance of their various intelligent and well informed leaders, whether it be in the church environment or in the various community groups. So pretty much everyone has voiced their opinions on the matter, and I would think any further seminars on the issue would just be flogging a dead horse. And from what I hear Pacific Islanders are not against giving other people their ‘fundamental right’ to practice their own unique way of life, but the principles involved in turning the institution of marriage between a man and a woman to include same gender couples is the main sticking point; and surely Pacific Islanders have the right to put across their views without fear of others trying to convince them otherwise.

Furthermore, if to be “formally and legally marry” is a “fundamental right and choice of every New Zealander” then why does Louisa Wall and the Labour Party, and even Parliament, seek the approval of the New Zealand people, especially the Pacific Islands communities? Surely, Parliament can just go ahead and vote for it, disregarding their conscience in favour of “fundamental right and choice,” as many of the MPs in the Labour Party have been incongruously conditioned to do for the sake of solidarity, and many people would not bat an eyelid if that happened; after all it is about ‘fundamental rights.’  At the end of the day, the Marriage Equity Bill debate is just another political exercise; and everyone knows it will eventually be passed in Parliament. The thing that puzzles me most, however, is why the insistence on carrying out seminars for Pacific Islanders on the Marriage Equity Bill, when all the hype and discussions have been defunct, and the public have said enough. So why pumped new life into a debate that is about to run its course with the responsibility squarely with Parliament to decide? What possible motives behind the present efforts to get the Pacific Islands community to endorse it? Again, I can only speculate, and say that Louisa Walls’ Marriage Equity Bill is just a stepping stone or a front for more sinister changes in the future to the whole institution of marriage.

The proposed series of seminars would be true to its agenda when it suggests “this is not an attack on the institution of marriage or the traditional values of Pacific people,” but the future, however, is not so clear if the phrase “understanding these aspects of the debate, amongst others, is vitally important for us going forward.” Is this a prophetic utterance of future exploitation of a positive outcome of the proposed seminars, especially if, at the end of the day, Pacific Island communities endorse Louisa Wall’s Marriage Equity Bill? Think about it. It will give leverage to any future proposals to further amend the Marriage Act, especially when it could be shown Pacific Island communities had already endorsed similar efforts in the past; otherwise Pacific Islanders would be labelled hypocrites if in the future they decide to go against it. What would happen down the road if the “traditional values of Pacific people” gets outlawed because of an endorsement Pacific Islanders made in the past? Envision a future whereby it will be illegal for any religion, Church, and for any Church Minister, to reject same-sex marriage; what happens to the “this is not an attack on the institution of marriage or the traditional values of Pacific people?”

I urge all Pacific Islanders to go and listen and participate in the proposed seminars, it will be informative. But don’t make decisions based solely on what is said and do not allow your emotions to be swayed by sweet talking politicians and suave whispering of our own people who support the bill; think also of what it will mean for Pacific Islands communities in the future if you endorse this bill now. I suggest that you do not give your endorsement if you are strongly against the Marriage Equity Bill; even if you know it will pass in Parliament and you think “what’s the use?” but at least you will not be bound to your word or be made accountable to any endorsement in the future. As the scriptures point out, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Amen to that!

Now, if you are wondering about the location of the seminar, Ponsonby, then you have every right to do so. Many Pacific Islanders, poor, unemployed, and low income earners, concentrate in South Auckland; so why create more expenses for them and make them travel all the way to Ponsonby? And why have it so far from Louisa Wall’s electorate of Manurewa?  I thought she wanted to inform Pacific Islanders in her electorate and make them understand the reasoning behind her bill? It seems odd trying to convince Pacific Islanders to endorse your bill, but you go out of your way to make it hard for everyone to attend. This is why I said, there is more to come beyond this bill. But, if you can’t make it from Bombay Hill because of the cost of petrol, then be prepared, when the time comes, the headlines will say: Pacific Islanders given opportunity but fail to show up! That’s politics…rotten to the core!

But, at least not all is rotten; our Olympians have returned after a very successful campaign in London. No one can deny them every ounce of accolade that they will be getting, even after  finding out that one of their peers, Valerie Adams, was denied her golden moment by Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who was on a high, in more ways than one, when winning the women’s shot put. Chris Rattue in writing about drug cheats summed up the two weeks that has been and gone as “living in a fool’s paradise”. Of course, he was referring to the way the London Olympics have been dubbed the drug-free games, only to discover that we have been fools to believe that the days of drug cheats in major sporting events are over.

But, I hope the drug scandal that has marred, once again, the image of sports does not detract our focus on the most important thing, and that is to celebrate with our athletes their recent success. Let us seize the opportunity and celebrate together with our multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, and multi-coloured athletes, and let us not spoil their moment of triumph by dwelling on our own arrogant opinions on recent issues. It will only spoil a great party. But, nevertheless, spare a thought for the Labour Party; their image has continued to diminish as the rot begins to set in as differences in opinion regarding leadership and party solidarity begin to drive a wedge through its ranks.

While there has been many reasons given for the conflict within the Labour Party, the comments by their Pacific Island MP Su’a William Sio, stands out as a major catalyst for the division. These are trying times for the Labour party as they cast lots to find the Jonah within its storm-beaten ship. The National Party and its allies continue to relish in the misfortunes of the Labour Party; it has distracted the public from the many important issues burdening the government. It is just incredible how things can change so dramatically due to the luck of the draw (or was it?) that pulled out Louisa Wall’s bill for discussion. Labour probably wished her bill had remained in the bag. So, as we celebrate the ecstasy of the winners let us remember the agony of the box. Now remember, whether we are winners or losers, we are all New Zealanders, and it is our duty to seek the peace and prosperity of this country to which God has given us to dwell. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.



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