New Zealand Pacific 28 Oct 2012
For readers of the New Zealand Pacific, it is timely to publish correspondence and comments received by its offi ce and staff so far, on an issue that cuts close to the heart of the Pacific community….
On Wednesday, 24 October, the Family First NZ organization put out a press statement titled: ‘Churches will have to host Same-Sex weddings – Wall’. The statement focused on a ‘touchy’ legal interpretation of churches rights to discriminate against hosting and performing same-sex marriage if it becomes law.
When Ms Wall bill passed its first parliamentary reading she told the media, “[The bill] will preserve the rights of our churches to discriminate, because under the Bill of Rights we have freedom of religion. “My bill isn’t going to affect how our churches defi ne marriage; it won’t oblige a minister to marry a same sex couple,” said Wall.
However, Family First, NZ’s statement alleges an about-turn. The statement reads: the promoter of the Marriage Amendment Bill has publicly admitted that churches, mosques and tabernacles will have to host ‘same-sex weddings’. In response to a question at an Auckland University debate earlier this month about freedom of religion and whether churches will be forced to host ‘same sex marriages’, Labour MP Louisa Wall responded ‘In theory, someone might choose to get married in a church hall, and if that church hires it out, then they can’t discriminate’. This backs up the legal opinion Family First received which said that ‘churches supplying services to the public will be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1993, if they refuse to supply services to a couple seeking to be married, by reason of the same sex of the couple’. Louisa Wall argues that churches already face this issue – but she is incorrect,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “Churches do not already have to host ‘same sex weddings’ in their churches, because there is no such thing yet as a ‘same sex wedding’. That issue will only arise if the Bill is passed. A ‘same sex wedding’ in a church, mosque or tabernacle would signify acceptance of the ‘marriage’. That would be entirely new and would certainly not be business as usual for churches. An obligation on a church to host a ‘same sex wedding’, in combination with the quite separate issue of church ministers who are celebrants who will not be able to refuse to perform ‘same sex weddings’, would seriously prejudice the religious freedoms of churches and ministers.”
A legal opinion obtained by Family First NZ from Barrister Ian Bassett stated that marriage celebrants (including church ministers) exercising their public function will be in breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, if they refuse to perform their public function as marriage celebrants by reason of the same sex of a couple seeking to be married. And church ministers, marriage celebrants, church elders and leaders, photographers and caterers and any other person or entity supplying services to the public will be in breach of the Human Rights Act 1993, if they refuse to supply services to a couple seeking to be married, by reason of the same sex of the couple. Family First NZ is warning faith-based groups such as Muslim, Sikh, Jew and Christian that they should speak up before it’s too late.
But the Shadow Attorney-General and member of the Labour Party’s Pacifi c island caucus, Mr Charles Chauvel has called the Family First, NZ statement “scaremongering”. He sent the following Letter to the Editor to the New Zealand Pacifi c on Thursday, 25 October.
The law is clear on this issue. A hall that happens to be owned by a religious institution and which is rented out for various purposes is treated as ordinary commercial property. The law treats it very differently to the consecrated space in a church, mosque synagogue, tabernacle or temple where an altar or the equivalent sits. The law requires any non-sanctified property, like a hall – as opposed to an actual place of worship – owned by a religious institution – to hire it out to any member of the public without discrimination. It does not require them to allow their church premises to be used for purposes to which they object. Louisa’s bill would not change that. The argument that performing a religious marriage ceremony is a public function under the Bill of Rights Act, so that religions cannot discriminate when they perform the function, is also plainly scaremongering. The public function is that of the Registrar – an employee of the state – in issuing a marriage licence. If it were correct, right now, an imam would be required to perform a marriage ceremony for a catholic couple in a mosque if the couple demanded it. Atheists would be able to demand the marriage sacrament from Christian ministers. Religious celebrants would be required to sanctify civil unions. The plain truth is this: none of that is a requirement of the law now. And again, Louisa’s bill would make no change: a religious ceremony for same-sex couples who choose to marry would not be required of any minister, rabbi, imam, elder or priest whose religion objected to the ceremony. Photographers and caterers are not exempted now and nor should they be – they simply provide commercial goods and services, rather than religious ones. I respect the right of people to oppose Louisa’s Bill. But I would respect them more if they honoured the 9th commandment not to bear false witness. Mr McCroskie in particular seems to have a problem in that respect.