'It pains us to say no': Church refuses to marry Kāpiti couple

Sara Rimmer, left, and Alexandra Saunders were refused a church wedding in St Peter's Anglican Church in Paekākāriki, on ...
MAARTEN HOLL/STUFF

Sara Rimmer, left, and Alexandra Saunders were refused a church wedding in St Peter's Anglican Church in Paekākāriki, on the Kāpiti Coast.

A same-sex couple have been refused a church wedding in a village where they say the gay population probably outnumbers the congregation.

Alexandra Saunders, a lifelong Anglican, and Sara Rimmer, who grew up in a religious family, planned to get married in December in Paekākāriki, on the Kāpiti Coast north of Wellington, where they live. 

Saunders contacted St Peter's Anglican Church to book the wedding.

Paekākāriki, known as a progressive hub on the Kāpiti Coast. "We probably have more gay people in the village than ...
JOHN NICHOLSON/STUFF

Paekākāriki, known as a progressive hub on the Kāpiti Coast. "We probably have more gay people in the village than attend that [St Peter's] congregation," Saunders says.

"I think when I first left a message for 'Alex and Sara', they thought Alex was a man's name," she said.

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She believed the local priest and congregation were not opposed to the marriage, but the Anglican Church's national rules forbade it.

The Kāpiti Coast, north of Wellington.
JOHN NICHOLSON/STUFF

The Kāpiti Coast, north of Wellington.

They then turned to St James' Church in the town, run by the multi-denominational Kapiti Uniting Parish, which initially agreed, but later refused because of opposition within the congregation.

They were also told it was because of problems with earthquake-proofing at the church.

The couple are now scrambling to find a new venue in time for the December wedding – at which St James minister the Rev Cornelia Grant, a Methodist, has said she will officiate.

Saunders said a church wedding was important to her. "My mind just twigged one morning ... 'you're uniting under God'. Suddenly that had a lot more meaning to me than even I expected.

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"I thought, 'I'm an Anglican, my family have been Anglican since forever' ... all Anglican, all the way back.

"We have a lot of gay people in the village. We probably have more gay people in the village than attend that congregation."

Both said they had nothing against the local congregation, but were disappointed by the national edict.

"We're not going to step on people's toes, we're not going to go where we're not welcome. Sara and I were really quite upset."

Rimmer said her life had already been "quite difficult" growing up gay in Southland in a religious family. As a result she discarded her religion.

"My background is about shedding that, and feeling a hell of a lot better. But there was a long period of that being quite a big problem."

Archdeacon Julie Rokotakala, vicar of the Kāpiti Anglican parish, said the nationwide church rules  "currently uphold Christian marriage as a union of a man and a woman". Priests were not allowed to officiate same-sex marriages.

"Some would indeed view this as a form of discrimination, and it must feel discriminatory to the couple ... the priest to whom the inquiry was directed initially sought to convey both her frustration that the church is where it is, and her concern for the couple."

Rokotakala said "it pains many of us in this province" that slow decision-making on changes came at a cost to people waiting to be treated as full members of the church.

However, she added, "a decision to ignore these rules could result in disciplinary action against a clergy person".

Grant said the Kāpiti Uniting Parish did not feel "100 per cent happy" about the wedding, which could have split the three denominations it represents.

The church was also earthquake-prone and, with about 120 guests expected, she had safety concerns. The church still holds Sunday services for smaller numbers.

Grant said Presbyterians in the parish were "100 per cent" opposed to the wedding in the church.

"It was all of these things coming together ... when I said yes, I did not know about the earthquake [problem] ... and I was not aware of the very deep feelings of the people."

Chairman of the parish council Sydney Mepham said there would be no marriages in the church while it did not meet earthquake standards.

A spokeswoman for the Human Rights Commission said that, under law, people getting married could not demand a celebrant or clergy member conduct their service.

A minister was not obliged to perform a marriage if it contravened the beliefs of the religious body to which he or she belonged.

"While we can't comment specifically on individual cases, anyone who believes they have been discriminated against is able to contact our inquiries and complaints team to talk through their options."

 - Stuff

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