Venue will allow same sex marriages after complaint

Some of the harbour views from Living Springs.

Some of the harbour views from Living Springs.

Earlier this month, a function centre in Lyttleton didn't allow same sex couples to hire their venue to get married.

But now after a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, they've changed their ways. 

Denis Aldridge, director of Living Springs, said earlier in March that their policy was not to allow gay couples to hire their venue, but that has since changed. 

Under the Human Rights Act, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation is prohibited. That includes service providers, like those hiring out a venue. 

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Aldridge said the original policy came from Living Springs' evangelical Christian background. 

"The background that we've come from, there was probably a lot we didn't do. Same sex marriage was one of them, there was no alcohol for weddings," he said. 

"Some people from religious backgrounds have had a real problem in this area… they couldn't see how they could line it up with what they believed and their scriptures."

However, over the years, Aldridge said the focus of the trust had changed. 

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"Our whole major thrust how is, 'How do we add to the greater good of the community we live in?'"

When asked if that should include queer members of the community, Aldridge agreed, but said "we're just not there yet as an organisation."

Following a complaint to the Human Rights Commission from a gay couple who had enquired at Living Springs, and been turned away, that's now changed. 

"We've been on a journey with this one, and we've got there... It took a while," Alridge said. 

"It's more than a legal issue, we think it's the right thing to do. We'd like to welcome [the couple who applied], we'd like to tell them ourselves."

Aldridge was keen to speak with the couple, but had not yet heard back. 

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Community lawyer Kate Scarlet, of Community Law Wellington, said that under the Human Rights Act, businesses can't discriminate against potential customers. 

"That means if a wedding venue is open to anyone to hire, then you can't discriminate in who you're allowing to hire it," she said. 

"There is a minor exception under the Marriage Act - celebrants aren't required to solemnise a marriage where that contravenes their religious beliefs, but that's just the celebrant, that's not the venue."

Living Springs is an function and activity centre overlooking Lyttleton Harbour in Christchurch. They run corporate events and school camps, and typically do about four or five weddings a year, Aldridge said. 

Same sex marriage has been legal in New Zealand since 2013. 

A Human Rights Commission spokeswoman said:  "We can't comment on individual cases but generally the Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis or sexual orientation ( and other prohibited grounds of discrimination) when providing goods or services, unless one of the statutory exceptions applies."

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