NZ Herald 23 Nov 2012
A bill to legalise same-sex marriage is likely to be amended to explicitly state that churches would not be forced to marry same-sex couples. A parliamentary select committee considering the legislation was flooded with submissions from religious groups who felt a law change would make it unlawful to turn away gay, lesbian or transgender couples who wanted to be married. The bill’s sponsor, Labour MP Louisa Wall, has repeatedly said that she wanted churches to retain their freedom of religion and expression. She felt that the Marriage Act’s provision that churches were authorised, but not obliged to marry people was sufficient protection, and noted that this stance had been reinforced by the Human Rights Commission. But differing legal opinions and growing uncertainty amid some religious groups has prompted the committee to consider a clarification in the bill.
….Victoria University Faculty of Law professor Bill Atkin recommended that the committee add a “conscience clause” to the legislation. “Given that there has been some discussion in the media as well as around this table there should be … some redrafting done to make it quite clear that people in the interests of freedom of religion do not have to perform a marriage which they object to on the grounds of their religious belief.” Professor Atkin said there was a strong public consensus that this was what the bill intended, but it was important to make it explicit in law. He recommended a narrowly defined exemption for mainstream churches from anti-discrimination legislation. Independent marriage celebrants, on the other hand, should not be exempt and should be bound by anti-discrimination law.