Same-sex Marriage Debate with Colin Craig, Louisa Wall and Matthew Flannagan

On Tuesday, 2 October of 2012, The Auckland University Students Association (AUSA) held a debate on the controversial topic of same-sex marriage. The moot for the debate was “This House supports the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Zealand.” Those who filled the 600+ seat lecture theatre to capacity were treated to an electric atmosphere and night of stimulating arguments and counter-responses. Both teams had three participants each.

On the affirmative team

  • Louisa Wall Labour Party MP and the drafter of the bill to legalize same-sex marriage
  • Levi Joule Queer Rights Officer of AUSA and the Auckland Regional Chair for Young Labour
  • Bonnie Hartfield Co-chair of Legaliselove

On the negative team

You can view the debate in full here. [1] Intelligent comments and questions are welcome below, but keep it civil.

 

A summary of the debate from my perspective.

From my perspective the debate was a success, and credit to Max Lim who organized the event with his team from the AUSA is due. Though the crowd was clearly for the motion and came with a biased and unbending predisposition, the weight of the arguments fell on the negative side.

On the affirmative side of this debate, Labour MP Louisa Wall’s opening speech was bafflingly structured to emphasize the history of the struggle for same-sex marriage. Her sole arguments for the moot seemed to be that widening the scope of those who can marry to include same-sex couples is advancing human rights, equality and tolerance, and is timely reflecting today’s New Zealand society. She pre-empted a possible criticism by strongly stating that her bill would not legitimize polygamous and incestual relationships such as others have claimed, and that those who say so, she believed, were being disingenuous and propagating propaganda based on fear and hatred. Bonnie Hartfield and Levi Joule neither added to affirmative’s case nor responded to the negative team. Hartfield began with a pretext of responding to Colin Craig, but then began on an awkwardly scripted, though humorous nevertheless, pro forma discharge of hot air. Her one point, unaddressed by the negative team, was that the marriage of same-sex couples would not change the significance of other married couple’s commitment to eachother.[2]

The negative team was far more decisive. Conservative Party leader Colin Craig played to audience in a kiwi-bloke-ish style, perhaps obscuring the substance of his arguments but with a flair that was certainly entertaining. This substance was that one cannot simply change the nature of something we all know and recognize with legislation, and that the current law was adequate for maintaining equal treatment for same-sex couples while appropriately and intelligently maintaining the difference between them.

Auckland University Student Chaplain Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio (“Joe”) – my personal highlight – in the style of philosopher William Lane Craig, clearly stated the contentions they were defending,

1. there are no compelling reasons to support the legalisation of same-sex marriage, and 
2. there are good reasons to oppose it.

Then he exposed the affirmative teams arguments both as fundamentally flawed (for marriage is not a universal right) and as emotive sloganeering (for “marriage equality” does not recognize what marriage actually is, which is more than just romance), then summarized his arguments with the following two syllogisms.

A) Universal human rights are universal rights
B) Marriage is not a universal right (since there are exceptions to those who can marry)
C) Therefore, traditional marriage does not deprive same-sex couples of a universal human right.
 
A) A component of marriage’s definition is the ability, in principle, to pro-create.
B) A same-sex couple cannot pro-create, whether incidentally or in-principle.
C) Therefore, same-sex couples do not fit within what marriage actually is.

 

Overall Joe’s presentation was irenic and well-received, clear and focused, and scored some major hits to which the affirmative team would not recover. The sounding of the warning timer appeared to fluster him and diminished the overall impact of his argument. It appeared as if he edited down his speech on the fly to finish sooner. However, he recovered well and finished strong. The wording of the syllogisms could be tightened up a little and would have been a hundred times more impacting had the premises and conclusions been projected for all to see on the screens behind him.

Dr. Matthew Flannagan, an associate of Thinking Matters, first gave three reasons to not support same-sex marriage in New Zealand.

1. If equality is a valid basis for accepting same-sex marriage, then it is a valid basis for rejecting the proposed legislation, for the bill is still discriminatory against other couples.[3] Thus the appeal to equality is contradictory and a red-herrings.

2. But even if the appeal to equality were sound, it wouldn’t justify the conclusion to legalise same-sex marriage, for same-sex couples already have all the rights of married couples[4] and giving something a different name doesn’t change the substance of what it is.[5] 

3. Doing so has the potential to restrict others civil liberties, for should the legislation be passed, people who provide services for wedding ceremonies would be compelled by NZ law to provide those services to same-sex couples as well despite their religious objections.[6] This is a paradigmatic example of restricting the freedom of religion.

Dr. Flannagan then dismantled the affirmative team by showing they had no basis for justifying the legislation. Three examples are as follows. That the law should reflect the people in society, stated by Louisa Wall, is not a good reason to pass the legislation, because there are a lot of single people in society and marriage should not apply to them. That the law should not tell us who we can and cannot have sex with, as raised by Bonnie Hartfield, is not a good reason to pass the legislation, for neither the debate nor the legislation is regarding the decriminalization of homosexuality. That a large number of people believe in this is not a good reason to pass the legislation, because it assumes that because a large number of people believe in something then it is must be just, but the assumption is false and, moreover, not even believed by the affirmative team.

Overall Dr. Flannagan’s presentation was brilliantly thought-out and responsive to the opposing team, cementing their victory over them. Though rushed, it lacked only the polish of presentation one could expect from a seasoned public speaker.

The closing statement of the negative team by Colin Craig, though off-the-cuff, summarized adequately the debate and the arguments, but in doing so lost the overall clarity of the negative team’s coordinated case. The closing statement of the affirmative team by Louisa Wall began more as a first rebuttal, first responding to Colin Craig’s citation of European Court of Human Rights from his first speech, then referencing Section 29 of the current Marriage Act (a flailing attempt to subvert Dr. Flannagan’s third point), and then gave a reason each to discriminate against polygamous and incestual relationships (ostensibly “central to negative’s case,” but in reality not central at all – not even central to Dr. Flannagan’s first argument to not support same-sex marriage in NZ). Her closing however soon collapsed into an impassioned but irrelevant speech about “growing up” as a society, having “grown-up conversations” like other countries, and being able to provide young people, like Levi – who  apparently don’t have the freedom to be safe when exploring their sexual self-determination – with some value and respect.

The question and answer period which followed really made plain the mood of the crowd. There was a barely restrained mixture of anger and amusement, and an unreasoning obstinacy from those, both for and against the moot, who had come to the debate an immovable conviction. To me this showed the incompetence of university students ability to adequately evaluate debates of this sort. It showed the inroads that have already been made by the affirmative team’s powerful but empty rhetoric. The question and answer period further revealed Lousia Wall as a skilled politician as she dodged some very pointed questions and even failed to comprehend pertinent issues that were raised. (Had I not been on the camera, I would have liked to have asked for all the talk about inequality, what universal or human rights do NZ same-sex couples lack?).

The debate overall showed Dr. Matthew Flannagan to be a first-class apologist as he presented his own logical arguments and the logical fallacies and assumptions used by the opposing team, and answered questions from hostile people in the crowd. It also showed me Auimatagi Joe Moeono-Kolio has a very promising future as an apologist and public speaker. I look forward to seeing where Joe goes from here.

The response card and its results I see as irrelevant and a waste of time.

 

Footnotes

[1] Thinking Matters was there to record the event in order to make a resource, particularly for our New Zealand followers who will face the question of the
legalization of same-sex marriage in the coming year. As this subject is also of great interest internationally, and since we have noted a scarceness of good resources generally available with a lack of civil, constructive and intelligent dialogue on this issue, it is also intended to be a resource for our international followers. Much of
the content is specific to the New Zealand context, however most of the arguments offered here can be translated to other contexts without great effort. It is also our hope that providing this full and unedited account of the proceedings that any inclined to misrepresent the debate after-the-fact will be silenced, and those responsible for misinforming the public will be held accountable.

[2] Though since it would change the meaning and significance of the social and civil institution of marriage in NZ for all New Zealanders, the point was indirectly addressed.

[3] Dr. Flannagan mentions there are 15 other types of couples which Louisa’s bill discriminates against.

[4] Two exceptions were mentioned. The first was recognition of relationship status outside NZ (which NZ does not have control over). The second was the right to adopt children (a right which could be obtained by same-sex couples by changing the adoption act, which is already in the process of being done).

[5] Bonnie Hartfield and Levi Joule both put forward the argument that same-sex couples were not currently able to attain the social-status of other married couples had because of the institution’s history and tradition. The argument is unsound, for by attaining the name they would deny that history and tradition.

[6] This was reportedly based on 3 separate legal opinions. For more information visit here