Change is a tough thing sometimes.
This post is about political change, its history in New Zealand, and why Labour MPs need to grasp the nettle and support Marriage Equality, as a core part of Labour's vision for a country where everybody belongs.
Political parties and movements that are progressive secure change by changing people's minds about issues. They do not ride with the grain of current opinion in those issues where change is demanded: they challenge it, they confront and cajole and persuade, and change people's minds.
New Zealand has a long history of such persuasion. It's a give and take process between movements and the broader electorate. You have the debate, you shift a bit more towards where the public are, and they have shifted a ways in your direction too. You keep pushing, and keep shifting opinion.
That's how the welfare state was founded. Labour's vision for the Social Security Act in 1938 would have been impossible in 1928. It was the experience of the Depression, and the constant campaigning by Labour party politicians and activists all around the country, that changed the public's view. From villages in the south Waikato to hamlets in central Otago to mining towns on the West Coast to Queen Street: Labour made the case and changed views.
Change always happens that way.
Look at the attitudes of Pakeha New Zealand towards Pacific migrants that were exposed by the ugly campaign Rob Muldoon ran in 1975. Dawn raids, attacks on overstayers, blatant racism and fearmongering about interracial marriage, crime, jobs and more were all exposed.
Today such views are held by many fewer people.
Politicians and campaigners made the case for equality and justice and inclusion, and those views have spread. New Zealand today takes great pride in Pacific communities and the diversity they bring to the country, and the links back to the Pacific Islands that they represent. I do not believe there would be many, if any, New Zealanders around today who have a fundamental problem with Pacific migrants and the Pacific communities of this country.
Those campaigns were underpinned by the core values the Labour Party stands for: the moral and legal equality of all people, a respect for and celebration of diversity, a championing of the personal freedoms we all need to thrive and flourish, and an abiding sense of fairness that said it simply did not make sense to treat people from the Pacific as second class citizens in our own country.
Of course, Pacific peoples are only one example. The direction has been consistent for women (suffrage onwards), for Maori, for people with disabilities and for homosexuals.
The direction is the direction of justice for all. It isn't perfect: there is still sexism and racism and homophobia and colonialism and fear of those who are different. But we have made this country a better place through the exercise of values, argued for and expressed through a democratic system.
In every one of these cases, the message has been profound. It has been a message of love. It has been a message of respect. It has said to people:
"You too are one of us. We share our fears, our hopes, our dreams. Come into our house. Be with us. Together we are one."
It is impossible, I think, to overstate the importance of that reality.
Our country is the country it is today because love has trumped fear in all of these stories.
Today, in a legal sense, we are near the end of that progression for equality for LGBT+ New Zealanders. Civil Unions were a step along the way, and they were important. They came only 18 years after homosexuality itself was decriminalised. But they are not the answer.
It all comes back to love and respect. Does our community include all of us? Or are we, those of us who are gay, to be told that we are second class citizens?
My own view is of course on the side of justice and equality. It would be regardless of the fact I am gay. To me, the struggles for fairness and equality are all linked. I take seriously the notion, expressed among other places in the Bible, that we are each other's keepers.
To me, the fight to end sexism and racism is the same as the fight to end homophobia.
It's the same as the fight against fear of those with disabilities.
It's about making the case that WE ARE ALL EQUAL. Not the same: we are gloriously diverse. But equal.
Equally worthy of respect and honour.
Equally worthy of the justice of the land being ours in the law.
Equally open to love.
Equally deserving to be treated as fully human.
These values are what unites the Labour Party and the Labour movement.
It is why a blokey as hell tradesman from Te Atatu, a Samoan minister in Mangere, a shearer in Te Awamutu, a lecturer in Dunedin and a nurse in Christchurch are all on the same side, why people like that all vote for Labour.
They know, and I know, that the promise of a better land and a better future requires us all to be on each other's side, fighting against those who would tell us we don't belong, don't deserve a fair go.
Labour MPs know in their hearts the values their party is founded on. They know that parts of their communities are on a journey to finding those values congenial. They know that some people will be opposed to Marriage Equality, just as some are opposed to Equal Pay for Equal Work, and some are opposed to migration to these islands.
They know they have, in their role, a special responsibility: to bend their energies to the widest possible spread of those Labour values that make New Zealand better for everyone.
So I expect Labour MPs to be out there talking about this issue, and making the case in favour of equality, and explaining to all why it's just a part of a bigger picture:
Building a country where we all belong.
That's what Labour is for. That's what leadership is about: making a difference and bringing about a better future.