Rights vs traditional values

Over at Still Truckin’, Ari’s posted about the effect of the same-sex marriage debate in the United States. While I’m not totally in agreement that a scaring the conservatives is a huge success (it’s not that hard for a start :) it has illuminated a huge divide within the United States, and perhaps within our own community.

Some of the academic analysis has looked at the tension between the “rights” frame and the “traditional values” frame which occurs in the debate. On the one hand we have GLBT communities arguing for equal rights, on the other some conservative Christian communities trying to protect the traditional values of their faith and the wider society. In much of the world the “rights” frame reigns supreme, but in the US they seem to have found the tipping point, and the rights arguments that win elsewhere fail in the face of moral and social conservatism and the defence of the family.

In New Zealand we see the same divide: Civil Unions, Prostitution Law Reform (rights of the sex workers to safety vs traditional values of sex-within-marriage), section 59 (rights of the child vs traditional values of child rearing and families). With section 59 are we coming toward the tipping point; where the traditional values of some will outweigh the arguments for the rights of children?

And if we are shifting the balance in those newer rights spaces, will we see it shift in existing issues?

In particular National’s plans for education raise that flag for me – increasing funding for independent schools but capping spending? It sounds like it’ll decrease equity of access to quality education for all students (so a step backwards for children’s rights) to afford an increase in funding for schools specialising in traditional morals teaching.

So, will we follow the US and let a conservative groups arguing for traditional values start to eat away the rights gains? Or will we stay true to NZ’s progressive history of advancing our citizen’s rights?

11 thoughts on “Rights vs traditional values

  1. Anita, Great that you’ve raised these questions. I think that my post speaks to the point about tipping points. Taking the long view, the struggle over gay marriage (as opposed to civil union, which I don’t think is nearly so contentious here) is simply another step on the road of social progress.

    As you can imagine, I’ve heard a lot about the gay marriage issue over the past five weeks here in California. The circuit-breaker I think is the historical evolution of marriage. Much of the opposition from church-goers stems from a mistaken belief, propagated by some churches, that marriage is immutably heterosexual and between two people, no more and no less. Not so. Once you accept that, like all social institutions, marriage has been shaped over time by changing social forces, then gay marriage looks inevitable and natural.

    The Nats’ attempts to privilege further the privileged will fail when people see it, and the Nats, for what they really are. It does jar somewhat with the state house myth-making, no?

  2. “let”? Firstly for some reason it got voted in, says alot about our society really.
    Secondly it’s already started with workers rights, something I thought should have been pretty safe and not a “progressive” subject at all.

  3. There are some issues with the “traditional values” voter that are naive at best and incredibly hypocritical at worst.

    What are traditional values? Are they the values of the baby boomer generation? The Depression Era generation or the Great War generation? There have been so many shifts in values over the past century that it is difficult to actually pin down what it is that people necessarily want their tradition to be.

    How about, instead, we make a tradition of moving forward and adapting with the times as to what is required by our society to maintain a progressive and equitable playing field for all?

    One of my biggest issues with the argument against “gay marriage” (quotes used because here it is civil unions and in the US it depends on the state) is have these people ever been denied access to a loved one in a time of trouble? When that loved one is unable to make a decision for themselves due to incapacitation of some kind (such as a coma)? Where estranged family can keep “guard” over their wayward relation but the spouse can’t visit at all.

    I am lucky. I have family from all generations over the past century that I have had the opportunity to actively discuss values with when I was of an age to understand all that was said. What I learnt from this was that even with some members of my family being very close in age, religious belief and personal background – their values could differ greatly on important topics. If members of my own family like this can’t agree on values, how do we have this perception of “traditional values”?

    EDIT: My wife just brought up a very important point as well. Our media charicatures people from these different periods so that the common perception of the values are formed by the media and not actually by the values being passed on between generations.

  4. Paul_B,

    Firstly for some reason it got voted in, says alot about our society really.

    I don’t think that anyone could claim that the Nats have an unambiguous mandate for a shift toward traditional values. It wasn’t their public platform (or at least it was only their platform toward “traditional values” voters). Their mandate is probably for increased focus economic values at the expense of social values, but that’s not the same as “traditional values”.

    Secondly it’s already started with workers rights, something I thought should have been pretty safe and not a “progressive” subject at all.

    I tried to get the erosion of workers’ rights into my post and failed :). I reckon that it’s not a “rights” vs “traditional values” debate: capital vs labour yep, maybe economic vs social, but I can’t make the benefit to employers fit into a “traditional values” frame.

    Should I have been able to? Did I miss a facet of the frame?

  5. Hi again Anita, thanks for plugging into that post!

    “Scaring conservatives” is important in some senses because it gives you a lot of political momentum. My post is from the background that the political “centre” in the United States is, for the first time in a long time, moving leftwards. (Not that it’d be hard to move leftward, it has almost no further right to go) This has largely happened because democrats and their supporters are learning to actually stick to their ideal plans rather than continually cave rightwards in some bizarre ploy to be considered centrist. Even Obama’s much-vaunted bipartisanship is essentially just a way of setting the battle lines slightly left of centre right at that start, and then calling Republicans obstructionists if they object.

    Tension between “traditional values” (or as I usually call it, social conservatism) and human rights is a good framework to be looking at these issues in. The whole reason we need rights-based frameworks is precisely because traditional social values have been hostile to human rights.

    Zorr: Those are a lot of my own criticism of conservative calls for policy based on “traditional values”.

    I tried to get the erosion of workers’ rights into my post and failed :). I reckon that it’s not a “rights” vs “traditional values” debate: capital vs labour yep, maybe economic vs social, but I can’t make the benefit to employers fit into a “traditional values” frame.

    Should I have been able to? Did I miss a facet of the frame?

    Employers taking a larger share of the pie has long been a tradition in employment- it’s easy enough to equate trickle-down economics with social conservatism, as it’s been the norm since the very start of trade systems right up until unionisation started. The trick is to look back long enough I guess, and remember that historical trade was still its own economic system that in many ways was almost as complex as ours.

  6. Because it believes New Zealand is, fundamentally, a business and not a society, the Key government has no other “value” than that it shares with all corporations: maximising return to shareholders.

    In National’s case, return to shareholders means cutting government costs, trasnferring services to the private sector, and allowing business to generate more and more profit – any rights that get in the way of this will be progressively elinminated. A worker’s right to be treated fairly by an employer has already gone. Next will be an assault on citizens’s entitlements to health, education, privacy and the environment.

    Thus, free of any morals and singularly driven by the big-business ethos, the Key Government is unlikely to be captured by social issues such as gay rights . . . unless the argument can be framed in such a way as to show how these rights can further maximise returns.

    Those who derive their values from the Old Testament will have as hard a time as any other group looking to further their agenda.

  7. This is a fascinating post. Before I wade any deeper, I’d like to float one question, however. What proportion of people do you think don’t approach these issues from a “traditional values” (and thus inherently conservative) position but from an essentially liberal one but perhaps arrive, sometimes, at the same conclusions?

    Thus I favoured the Civil Unions Bill and Prostitution Law Reform because they both permitted groups within society more freedom, forced no one to do anything they didn’t want to do, and punished no one for anything unreasonable.

    However I was gravely uneasy with Section 59 (and as an aside, being classed amongst those who “wanted to beat their children” by some on the left did nothing to endear their perspective to me).

    My concerns were entirely practical: that the kind of scum who takes a fence post to a child, or pins one to a clothesline, couldn’t give a toss about common morality and their basic animal instinct to protect a child isn’t even functioning. So are they likely to pay heed to statute law before torturing the next one? Thus it wouldn’t achieve its objective.

    Secondly, I couldn’t see a major failing in the application of the existing law. The headline child abusers we read about all too often weren’t escaping justice by invoking Section 59 and if others were, the exisiting law could have simply dealt with it through the judiciary altering its interpretation of the meaning of “reasonable” (etc) set out in the Act.

    Thirdly (and equally importantly from my own observations) is that the police already have more than enough power, which they’re not above abusing when they have someone in their sights. So I could well imagine the law being misapplied by over-zealous police to land someone with a conviction for child abuse over a smack on the bum. (Whether a smack on the bum is good parenting is certainly debateable; whether a parent deserves arrest and a conviction for handing one out is not, IMHO).

    I see this as more a common sense approach. It could just as easily be said to be about rights as it is about traditional values – if you count amongst your traditional values “do unto others…”

    So is this, for people other than activists, a values vs rights debate? Or are they simply voicing their opinion on what they believe to be practical?

  8. Rex,

    What I reckon is…

    We all have all the frames in our heads, we know what they mean and how they work, they’re a big part of our belief/moral structures and a short cut way of sharing concepts. When you say um… “Anyone should have a right to frutingle in the privacy of thir own homes” I don’t need to understand what you mean to know what you’re arguing, or even to evaluate your argument.

    We all have lots of frames, but we each have some that are dearer to our hearts.

    When someone wants to argue for or against something (as an individual or as part of a major campaign) they pick the frame that fits best (often cos it underpins their personal ethics) and go with that one frame, maybe backing up with some others but pretty much putting all their energy into one.

    So yes, when activists collide, pure frames also collide, but the rest of us stand around and think about both frames and weigh them up, and being in personal experiences and pragmatic considerations.

    With section 59 the two big frames were “rights” and “traditional values”, but some activists also brought other frames to the table. I think I’d argue the nebulous “nanny state” frame is taking on a life of its own rather than floating formlessly somewhere between “traditional values” and the libertarian “small government, minimal intervention” frame. Obviously there were also players bringing in a big dollop of political expedience :)

    People outside the advocacy groups? Most of us processed our own experiences and thoughts through our multiple frames; very few were as committed to a single frame as the leading advocates. Some of us brought other frames into play – a number of members of Māori and PI communities brought in issues about racially imbalanced policing, a number of people brought “divine teachings” into it.

    I would argue that even when we feel like we’re simply looking at practicalities and personal experience they’re still coloured by the frames we interpret the world through. The groups arguing over section 59 were each trying to encourage you to be more influenced by their frame. Not just for this debate either, the pro-repeal advocates wanted not just to convince you of this issue, but to raise your preference for children’s rights and the rights frame. The anti-repeal groups want you to be more influenced by the traditional values frame in all your interactions with the world.

  9. That’s pretty much as I see it too… though not clustering at one end of the spectrum or the other seems to annoy the hell out of the committed on either end, which gets terribly trying at times (says someone who’s “actually liked” by Redbaiter (yes, he truly said that once… I imagine he went and stangled some cute furry kittens to regain his equilibrium :-)), yet can have a cordial debate here and at The Standard).

  10. Whenever I see the words ‘traditional values’, it always means that women lose a little more equality and face a little more control over them.

    Section 59 is about making adults think. That is the first step to change. It is also the one thing that will make mainstream people angry enough, if they are targeted, to start reporting the really bad child abusers if only for revenge.

    We must give it a chance.

  11. Rex,

    [section59] the exisiting law could have simply dealt with it through the judiciary altering its interpretation of the meaning of “reasonable” (etc) set out in the Act.

    There is quite a lot of evidence that the judiciary was, in fact, progressively altering their interpretation. In 1997, for example, a Family Court ruling reduced the ability to use cultural considerations to justify physical discipline (FP 009/1760/96).

    Sorry, I didn’t have that ref with me at the time and I forgot to follow up by the time I did. Thanks for reminding me a couple of threads over :)

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