Politics and “National Interest”

How does one define the “National Interest” for any country? (Does such a thing even exist?) And how does the “National Interest” differ from humanitarian interest? My interest was piqued a while ago by an article in the NYT about how increased regulations regarding proof of citizenship resulted in fewer US citizens receiving Medicaid and other federal benefits. The measures sounds like the result of a wonderful politico-bureaucratic idea: let’s exclude illegal aliens and spend less money by ensuring we don’t give Medicaid to non-US citizens: they must, for some reason, be less deserving. So everybody wins, no?

No: poor people, whether US citizens or not, lose out if they don’t have proper ID. And being a US citizen (which clearly makes some people more worthy than others) helps not a jot if the paperwork isn’t there to prove it.

In this case, it’s fairly clear that humanitarian interest lags way behind the “national interest” touted by politicians. While it’s fairly easy to claim that the moves taken to limit Medicare provision to non-citizens are beneficial to the US, they are not necessarily beneficial to the service’s intended recipients, the poor.

It annoys me no end when political expediency takes precedence over the needs and demands of people. (And it happens all the time at home: I need to be more in touch with news from home before I can comment on it, though.)


That marriage thing

So it’s now official. South Africa has officially legalised gay marriage, which resulted in the first gay marriage happening earlier today. I was motivated to start writing my blog before things came to a head: at that stage, the South African Parliament hadn’t approved the Civil Unions Bill.

But now to the REALLY interesting stuff… Namely the outcry and misinformation that’s surrounded the whole situation. A lot of people are really angry about the idea of gay marriage: it’s supposedly un-African, un-Christian, un-democratic and who knows what else. The whole process has been a really interesting political one, and a short road-map would allow for a better understanding of the situation.

In December 2005, the Constitutional Court, the highest court in South Africa, ruled that South Africa’s laws discriminated against homosexual couples wishing to get married. In addition, however, the court charged the government to enact marriage laws that comply with the Constitution before the first of December 2006. If such laws weren’t in place, the Constitutional Court was going to put them in place itself.

During 2006, the South African government had public meetings to discuss what was termed the “Civil Unions Bill,” which wasn’t well received by most people.

In October and November of 2006, people started getting upset because the Bill was to go before Parliament. Most of the fuss was because the Bill had been amended to include marriage as well as “separate but equal” civil unions, which was not the version put to the public earlier in the year. Most people also had no idea that the Bill was on its way: it came as a big surprise to a lot of people. The amendments were approved and the Bill was ratified by the two necessary sections of Parliament and put into law a few days before the December deadline.

And now we have legal gay marriage in South Africa. Voila!

The interesting parts start with the Constitutional Court ruling: the ruling casts a completely new light on the conservative American idea of “activist judges”! But the ruling is fair in terms of the Constitution, whether most South Africans agree or not. And that’s why the amendment was necessary: without the provision for marriage, the marriage law would be discriminatory. So the wording is now completely neutral. And the government only just managed to get everything done in time.

But everything is now all right. The law says that any two people can marry. It’s nice, simple and straightforward. Now we need to see how the law (and the reaction to the law) will impact upon the lives of gays and lesbians living in South Africa. Time will tell on that front.