Where is Christian compassion?
OPINION: The Marriage Amendment Bill aims to amend marriage legislation to ensure gay couples are not treated in "a discriminatory manner". It has passed its first reading and is now open for submissions from the public. In our next piece in a series of opinions, Wairarapa man and future Labour political hopeful Kieran McAnulty says marriage equality is inevitable at some point. Why can't that time be now?
Not all that long ago, it was illegal to be a gay man in New Zealand. It took a long and often courageous battle against discrimination before it was decriminalised in 1986. Now, in 2012, many people wonder what all the fuss was about. I cannot help but feel that in 20 years’ time, the same will be said for the issue of marriage equality.
Labour MP Louisa Wall's private member's bill would allow same-sex couples to marry on the same footing as heterosexual couples. It has garnered significant support, but whether it passes into law remains to be seen. Like the issue of New Zealand becoming a republic, marriage equality has a sense of inevitability about it. One day the New Zealand Parliament will pass such a measure. I do not see why that day cannot be in 2012.
This is not a Labour Party bill, but with the vast majority of Labour MP’s indicating they will support it, it demonstrates that it touches on one of Labour’s core values: Fairness.
This Bill is based on the premise that everyone should have equal opportunity to recognise their relationship within the social and legal institution of marriage. It will ensure that all New Zealanders have the right to marry regardless of their sex, sexual orientation or gender identity.
Marriage equality is now on the international agenda. It’s a conversation which is happening in the United States, in Australia and the United Kingdom. US President Barack Obama has made the issue a foundation of his own presidential campaign and our prime minister, John Key, has voiced his support for the debate.
Whenever this issue comes to the forefront, many objections to marriage equality are raised. Three key arguments - those who have had a lifetime vision of marriage and are therefore reluctant to change, those of strong religious views, who may see a scriptural basis for exclusively heterosexual marriages, and those that cite the adoption and raising of children as a primary concern – appear to make the bulk of the opposition.
As The Press observed “socially conservative people may also extol the benefits of "traditional marriage" to the exclusion of other forms. Allowing homosexual marriage is seen, therefore, as tantamount to an attack on marriage as an institution.
I can’t see how allowing others to share in marriage diminishes anything my wife and I currently share.
I respect many religious teachings – I am Catholic and was married in the Catholic Church – but I struggle with any interpretation of religion that allows one group to discriminate against another. The Catholic and wider Christian argument against same-sex marriage has forced me to question the religious institution to which I adhere.
A couple of Sundays ago my wife and I were sitting in St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, Masterton. The parish priest – whom I greatly respect – was explaining how scripture should be not read not to the ‘letter of the law’, but rather the ‘spirit’ – that we should focus on the intention rather than the specific wording of these teachings.
He spoke of compassion, love and respect – love thy neighbour as thyself. Thou shalt not judge, and all that…These are words which we can all adhere to. Yet, after the sermon a letter from the Catholic Bishops of New Zealand was produced which denounced marriage equality as deplorable and gay adoption as a threat to New Zealand families. I turned to my wife and said “something is wrong here”.
For me, however, the case for marriage equality is not a religious, but a legal argument. Those that choose to be married in a church do so to add a spiritual element to their legal commitment. If this bill passes, they will not be prevented from doing so. It is up to each religion to determine whom is allowed to be married by that institution.
As it stands those whom are divorced cannot remarry in the Catholic church. No-one seems to care about that. There was once a time when mixed-race marriages would have been frowned upon, along with unions which crossed the boundaries of class or religion. We have rightly moved beyond all that.
I suspect many religions will choose not to allow same-sex marriages. In that sense, this bill does not affect them. All that will change is that no couple in New Zealand will continue to be discriminated under the law. As it stands some citizens are not entitled to that which others are and that, from a legal perspective, is unacceptable.
It appears I am not alone in this view. A recent Colmar Brunton opinion poll suggested that 63 per cent of New Zealanders supported same-sex marriage. In the 18 to 35 age group the level of support was more than 75 per cent. New Zealanders, it seems, are ready to accept same-sex marriage and there is no real reason why they should not.
And, as for children, it is impossible to sustain an argument against two loving parents who happen to be of the same gender when too often children are let down by "traditional" families which turn out to be violent or abusive. When I was four days old, I was adopted into a loving family. I owe much of my success to the love and support they have given me all my life. The fact that my parents are each of a different sex is just a coincidence. Love is love regardless of whom it is between, and it is that which is important.
Now is the time to move beyond this barrier, and let people declare love and be acknowledged for who they are.
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