Same-sex marriage divides churches

The Marriage (Equality) Amendment Bill is dividing Canterbury churches as the law inches closer to becoming a reality.

MPs last night backed the bill by 77 votes to 44 in its second reading.

While many mainstream churches have vowed not to allow the ceremonies on their turf, many are welcoming the law and even identifying themselves as "gay affirming".

Some Christchurch ministers have gone as far as to say they will perform same-sex marriages privately as marriage celebrants if their churches won't allow it.

With the bill passing its second reading last night, churches in Canterbury are having to seriously examine what they will do if same-sex marriages become a reality.

Christians for Marriage Equality spokeswoman Reverend Margaret Mayman said that while most people presumed churches would be against same-sex marriage, a surprising number supported it.

"In my view, being gay and being religious are not mutually exclusive," she said.

The bill contained a religious exception that meant no church would be forced to perform same-sex marriages.

"It's a common misconception that we're trying to make churches perform gay marriages. That's simply not true. Some churches will be happy to do so," Mayman said.

Christchurch Metropolitan Community Church spiritual leader Marion Wilson said the church was "gay affirming" and would happily perform the ceremonies.

"We are very much in favour of legalising gay marriage. We firmly believe that God accepts gays the way they are and we will help affirm that relationship in law," she said. "We have many gay members of the congregation who I'm sure would like to get married."

St Ninian's Presbyterian minister Reverend Rob Ferguson said the law change "couldn't come fast enough".

"Even if I don't get the Presbyterian church's permission to perform the marriages at St Ninian's, I would be happy to perform them in my personal role as a marriage celebrant."

Methodist/Presbyterian minister Reverend Hugh Perry, of the St Albans Uniting Parish, was also happy to undertake the ceremonies in his role as a marriage celebrant if the church would not allow it.

Others showed more traditional religious reservations.

The Catholics were the most strongly opposed to the bill, with Bishop Barry Jones, of the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch, saying it was "against the catholic teaching".

No Catholic churches in Christchurch would perform the ceremony.

A spokesman for the Anglican Diocese of Christchurch also said none of their churches would perform same-sex marriages because "marriage is currently defined as between a man and a woman".

With the issue being so highly divisive, some denominations planned to let each parish make the call.

Methodist Church of NZ minister Reverend David Bush said the choice would be up to individual methodist churches in Christchurch.

"There are several that have decided to perform civil unions and I'm sure some would also be happy to perform gay marriages."

One of those was Durham St Methodist Church.

Reverend Mary Caygill said her parish was in support of same-sex marriage.

"The feeling of the congregation is that we want to be a place same-sex couples can come if they want to get married in a church. We are very firm about that."

Mayman said she believed Anglicans and Presbyterians would, in future, also let individual parishes decide.

The Press