Kia ora: Over the holidays I read Lionel Shriver’s dystopian novel The Mandibles a family 2019-2047 (2016). The actions of Trump’s America make me ask- ‘have we already been catapulted into the dystopian future?

Monthly meeting: Monday 6 March 6.30 pm

Welcome to 2017 General Discussion

This meeting will be general discussion as 2017 has brought much to ponder. It is also an opportunity to discuss your views on ‘What is Marriage’. One opinion is included with this newsletter. Your opinion on our monthly meeting venue and format will also be welcome. Do you have ideas for meeting topics? Bring your ‘on top’ idea.

All interested people are welcome, Society members and members of the public – bring a friend.

Venue: Thistle Inn, 3 Mulgrave St in the Katherine Mansfield Room

  •      Subscriptions for 2017 year are now due: We appreciate your support which helps lend weight to our campaigns. Visit our website humanist.org to renew your subscription or join us for the first time. Your subscription may also be sent to us by cheque to P.O. Box 3372 Wellington. Subscriptions remain the same as 2016. An unwaged subscription is $20.00 with a waged subscription of $35.00.
  •      Eileen Bone Scholarship to Victoria University: Shania Smith is the 2016 Naenae College student who has received this award. Shania has written to us outlining her plans for this year. ‘My name is Shania Smith recipient of the Eileen Bone Scholarship for 2016. I have graduated from Naenae College and now want to have a tertiary qualification. I am very thankful and would like to inform you of my intentions for this year. I am planning to go to Victoria University in 2017 to study a Bachelor of Arts. My chosen courses are NZ Sign Language, English and Linguistics along with Chemistry and German. As I am uncertain of what the future holds, my intentions are to major in TESOL and Linguistics and minor in NZ Sign Language. Knowing that this is a time of shaping and moulding of my career, I am open to new ideas and take every opportunity given. I am a committed young woman and consider myself very honoured and blessed in receiving this scholarship. Many thanks, Shania Smith’
  •      Australian Humanist Convention Melbourne 7-9-April 2017 ‘Ethics in an Uncertain World’: Concerned about politics, religion, science, ethics, education? Then travel to Australia and join AC Grayling and Peter Singer with a host of others to help make sense of the world we live in. For Tickets and Details go to convention.humanist.au

Auckland 9 April 2017 AYAAN HIRSI-ALI Hero of Hersey Australia & Auckland Lecture Tour (Think Inc): Critics have accused Ayaan Hirsi Ali of anti-Muslim hate speech, decrying her portrayal of the religion as a “nihilistic cult of death” and “the new fascism” in which violence is inherent. Other commentators like the late Christopher Hitchens praised her intellectual prowess, while novelist Roger L. Simon deemed her a “modern Joan of Arc”.

‘In a well-functioning democracy, the state constitution is considered more important than God’s holy book, whichever holy book that may be, and God matters only in your private life.’ Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Ayaan Hirsi Ali will be speaking in Auckland on 9 April.2017  Find out more about her and what makes her such a controversial figure: https://thehumanist.com/tag/ayaan-hirsi-ali/: and get your tickets using the following link:. https://www.thinkinc.org.au/events/hirsi-ali/?gclid=CIXShK__hNICFQVwvAodkdEC5g

If you are travelling northwards to the Northern hemisphere then the following change of plan may make it possible for you to attend the IHEU/BHA one day international conference and 2017 GA, 5-6 August 2017.

  •      Cancellation of IHEU World Congress August 2017 Sao Paulo, Brazil:  Carl Blackburn, the CEO of IHEU has written to us, sadly informing us that the World Humanist Congress scheduled to take place in São Paulo, Brazil in August has had to be cancelled. Changes in the Brazilian economy have made it difficult to market the Congress and find sponsors. In addition, there is uncertainty over changing visa requirements (especially for those who would need to pass through the USA). These and other factors have made the Congress impractical and unviable. IHEU thanks friends and colleagues from the Secular Humanist League of Brazil (LiHS) for their efforts in trying to organize the World Humanist Congress. LiHS is a small, under-resourced organization with no paid staff, and they have also gone through recent changes. IHEU will be supporting LiHS to host a regional conference in the near future. In place of the World Humanist Congress, IHEU is working in partnership with the British Humanist Association to organise a one day international conference on the global challenges of nationalism, populism, religious extremism and illiberalism and the need to defend and promote democracy and human rights in response. This conference will take place in central London on Saturday 5 August. The IHEYO General Assembly will be on Friday 4 August and the IHEU General Assembly on Sunday 6 August.
  •      IHEU General Assembly NEW ZEALAND 3-6 AUGUST 2018: Several years ago our Humanist Council considered hosting an IHEU World Congress in Wellington as we have a magnificent Conference area with Te Papa, and the Michael Fowler Centre set so near the Wellington Waterfront. We could visualise socialising during a moonlit evening during March or April. However costing was beyond our means and we had to abandon this dream. We understand and sympathise with Sao Paulo Humanists in their decision to abandon their World Congress dream. However the annual IHEU General Assembly is more achievable. Furthermore, there have been informal requests from IHEU and BHA members to host a General Assembly in NZ. A date is set 3-6 AUGUST 2018! We have had initial planning meetings and a General Assembly plus Travel concept has emerged. We are inviting NZ humanists, rationalists and sceptics to join us. There will be opening sessions in Auckland followed by a road trip down to closing sessions in Wellington. The road trip can take differing routes to include locations of different appeal to our visitors. We would be pleased to hear of places of interest that are off the beaten track to make our road trip one ‘with a difference’. Please join us as we make our way south. There is always the option for further travel down the South Island if our visitors would like to continue. The decision for August was requested by the IHEU as it is the holiday period in the Northern Hemisphere. If anyone would like to join our planning group do contact Gaylene  021 155 7084

 

An opinion piece open for discussion and comment by Peter Clemerson, Humanist Marriage Celebrant.

What do we mean by marriage?

A series of reports in the New Zealand Herald in late 2016 and early 2017 covered the domestic violence offending of Pakistan-born Mr. Yasir Mohib and the sequence of Mr Mohib’s court appearances. As a Humanist marriage celebrant, my interest in the case, and perhaps that of some other Humanists, lies in Mr Mohib’s marital arrangements. He has a family consisting of five children born in New Zealand to their two New Zealand-born mothers, who are referred to in the newspaper articles as his “wives”. I wondered how such a situation could have arisen as the procedure for obtaining a marriage licence for the second marriage would have required Mr Mohib or his “wife-to-be” to have made a false statutory declaration about Mr Mohib’s marital status when applying for the license. Had a license been issued in such circumstances and the marriage taken place, Mr Mohib would have committed bigamy, a criminal offence. In an interview conducted by TV 3(1) it was made clear that while his first wife was married to Mr Mohib according to Australian and therefore also NZ law, the second “wife” was not. Only a religious ceremony has taken place (2). She calls Mr Mohib her husband but admits that she is not married to him according to NZ law.

I believe the case raises some troubling issues for many Humanists, although perhaps not all. Marriage is regarded by many of us, perhaps most, as a binding of just two people together with legal and emotional ties. While the reasons for including only two parties within the marriage are many and varied, one is the granting by both parties of a right to the other to exclusive emotional attachment and consideration, a concession to the prevalence of jealousy in human nature (3). While our legal system appears to protect and value the ceremony of marriage itself, the institution and the status that it confers, by criminalising bigamy, a gaping loop hole exists. Simplifying slightly, the NZ Crimes Act 1961 defines a marriage as bigamous only if one of the parties is already married and the ceremony is conducted apparently in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act 1955. One of these requirements is the prior issue of a licence. If no licence has been issued, the ceremony has not been conducted in accordance with the requirements of the Marriage Act 1955 and therefore no act of bigamy has taken place. The situation is different in Australia where the ceremony of marriage, its meaning and resulting status are better protected by more careful wording. Here is the relevant passage from the Australian Marriage Act 1961, section 101.

“Solemnisation of marriage by unauthorised person

A person shall not solemnise a marriage, or purport to solemnise a marriage, at a place in Australia or under Part V unless the person is authorised by or under this Act to solemnise marriages at that place or under that Part, as the case may be.

Penalty: $500 or imprisonment for 6 months.”

The important phrase is “…, or purport to solemnise a marriage, …”. No-one can call a ritual a marriage ceremony or represent it as a marriage ceremony unless it conforms in all respects to Australian law. We have no such phrasing in our law. The meaning of ‘purport[ing] to solemnise a marriage’ was made clear in a recent Australian case. In 2014, Imam Muhammad Riaz Tasawar was prosecuted for conducting an unauthorised marriage, a religious event in a private house (4) .He pleaded guilty and was fined $500. He escaped the gaol sentence but had his Religious Leader’s visa cancelled and is understood to have been deported. There are other instances which appear to show that the Australian legislation is working (5). Because anyone in New Zealand can perform a ceremony of their own design, call it a marriage, and claim that thereafter the two parties are married, the act of marriage and the meaning of the ceremony are not as well protected as they are in Australia. Had we had similar phrasing in our legislation, the imam who conducted the religious ceremony “marrying” Mr Mohib to his second wife would have been guilty of a criminal offence. More likely, no “marriage ceremony” would have taken place. With no such legislation in place there is nothing to stop such marriages becoming ever more widespread.

Mr. Mohib’s case also illustrates the spread of a culture and the possible eventual acceptance of a legal system which is contrary to western values and practices, namely, sharia. Mr Mohib has taken advantage of a feature of sharia, namely, the right of a man to have more than one wife, while he would deny the equivalent right to both his wives. Should this practice become widespread, we in NZ would find ourselves accepting ever greater inroads into our national life of a practice, the underlying values and a belief system that are all contrary to those we currently promote, the most relevant one here being the equality of the sexes.

Against the arguments made above is an argument made by Mr Mohib himself, although not in words I would use. As Humanists, we place an emphasis on freedom of thought, expression and action. As long as no harm is done to one person by another, we have no reason to condemn an action and no reason to promote laws which constrain freedom to act in harmless ways. Mr Mohib claims that all three parties to the arrangement he has with the mothers of his children accept it voluntarily and that he is doing no harm. The family has appeared on television without any apparent coercion. He could reasonably claim that their domestic arrangements are no-one else’s business. Is he right?

The question that I would like to pose is this: what do we want marriage to mean? If our answer is the same as the one defined by the Marriage Act 1955, which in section 23 explicitly confines a marriage relationship to one between two people only, and therefore wish to protect it as a social institution defined in this way, then we need to make our law similar to the Australian one. The two-person view of marriage was not altered by the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013 which legislated for same-sex marriage. On the other hand, if we as a nation are content to see the term widened in meaning so that anyone can conduct any kind of ceremony and define marriage in any way they choose, as Mr Mohib does, then should we adopt that view explicitly and abandon the protection the institution of marriage has been given till today? Mr Mohib would then have to allow one or both of his wives to have another husband. In principle, abandoning our current legislation would enable any number of people of both sexes, four men and three women for example, to be joined in a single relationship they choose to call a marriage. Is this necessarily bad and if so, why?

We seem to have a few options. First, we can tighten our definition of the marriage ceremony and the way in which it takes place by aligning our legislation with Australia’s, second, we can change the meaning of marriage to mean something other than the relationship between two people or third, we can do nothing. There may be other options. The one arrangement that I am confident would not get national approval is the one in which men may have more than one wife but women may not have more than one husband, the institution of polygyny. However, the do-nothing option will likely lead to this with increasing frequency. As a country, we are being forced to ask ourselves for a second time what do we want the institution of marriage to consist of and mean? Are we ready to face up to the question or will we do nothing?

Peter Clemerson

Humanist Marriage Celebrant

(1) http://www.newshub.co.nz/tvshows/story/inside-the-home-of-man-who-assaulted-wife-with-hammer-2016100519 )

(2) http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11720158 Use the slide bar to get to the Auckland High Court Registry entry and look at paragraph [6].

(3) Buss, D.M. (2000). Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy is as Necessary as Love and Sex.

(4) http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/cleric-who-married-12yearold-believed-he-had-done-nothing-wrong-20140402-35xqu.html

(5) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/probing-polygamy/news-story/a9b8890af4c03464f0ef00a7aa70faa9

This is an opinion piece and your comments are welcomed. Please send to [email protected]