OPINION: While the marriage equality bill passed through its first reading with a convincing majority, the debate hasn't stopped for those on both sides of the discussion.
The third instalment in our series of opinion pieces comes from former Christchurch Anglican pastor John Stringer.
He says the bill would put many churches and community groups at odds with the law.
By JOHN STRINGER
MP Louisa Wall's same-sex marriage bill will have a huge impact on NZ churches. Many gay people across the world oppose it; there is even a US gay website against gay marriage.
Former New Zealand MP (now UN official) Chris Carter, a gay man, felt he could not support it until churches were comfortable culturally and spiritually. In 2004 he said: "I accept that marriage has a traditional and religious heritage...it could be difficult for the State to apply the institution of marriage to same-sex couples until the majority of our religions have done so." Then-Prime Minister Helen Clark agreed: "Marriage is only for heterosexuals. The Government is not - underline - not, changing the Marriage Act. That will remain as an option only for heterosexual couples."
Wall argues her bill will not force churches to conduct same-sex marriages or affront historic values. But this is untrue. Voters were promised during the Civil Unions debate that by supporting that bill, there would be no gay-marriage bill. Well, here we are. If we are unable to trust the 2004 assertions, how can we trust the current pro-bill lobby to respect church positions after same-sex marriage is made legal (if it is)?
Wall's bill will confuse marriage (and divide the community) by creating several 'classes' of marriage:
1. Legal Civil Unions (not marriages).
2. Legal traditional church/other religious/cultural marriages recognised by the State.
3. Legal same-sex marriages recognised by the State but unrecognised culturally by churches and some cultures.
This is a very serious division, as it puts community groups at odds with each other under law. It places churches in awkward positions; while honouring their values, they will be placed at variance with the law. The US Scouts organisation, for example, has come under intense pressure to admit openly homosexual people as troop leaders, a decision they rejected after a careful two-year review, as inconsistent with their Christian foundations.
New Zealand churches will be subject to a battery of opposition and legal attacks. They will be accused of open discrimination and "inequality." Same-sex marriages would be legal while others do not acknowledge them for religious or cultural reasons, such as many Asian cultures with very old traditional customs related to family, heritage, ancestors and marriage.
Such threats to liberty are not idle. International watchdog Persecution.org, The Christian Institute (UK) and America's The National Review report that since same-sex marriage was legalised in Canada (July 2005), "there have been between 200 and 300 proceedings - in courts, human-rights commissions, and employment boards - against critics and opponents of same-sex marriage." Public employees were disciplined, businesses sued and churches threatened legally.
Elaine Huguenin is a marriage photographer in New Mexico where same-sex marriage is not legal. She declined to photograph a same-sex ceremony in 2008 because it conflicted with her Christian beliefs. Although New Mexico law does not recognise gay unions, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission ordered Elane Photography to pay US$6637.94 to the aggrieved complainant, accusing them of discrimination based on sexual orientation under state anti-discrimination laws. The New Mexico Supreme Court is reviewing the case this week. This is typical of the conflict Louisa Wall's bill will bring in to our community. It is deeply divisive, even among the gay community.
If passed, the Wall bill will establish a scaffold upon which New Zealand churches will be hung out to dry. This has been the pattern of behaviour with social-engineering bills of this type that brook no disagreement. It poses a genuine threat to liberty. Quite aside from traditional marriage "discriminating against gays" this bill will actively "discriminate" against conservatives and pound them with the weight of law.
* John Stringer is a former Anglican pastor. http://conzervative.wordpress.com
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