Wrong, dangerous, expensive and unnecessary.

Catholic priest Father Merv Duffy argues a change is wrong, dangerous, expensive and unnecessary

I oppose the proposed re-definition of marriage in Labour MP Louisa Wall’s bill before Parliament because it is wrong, dangerous, expensive and unnecessary.

It is wrong because marriage is a historical and cultural universal reflecting our nature.

Humans are a sexually differentiated species – males and females are different – and we pair-bond. A couple who are attracted to each other set up a household and raise a family. The family, involving the genetic parents of the children co-operating to raise them, is an enduring institution which has taken many forms.

Such families are the core of society. Well-functioning and stable families bring up their children well. There are many types of relationship, but human societies value in a special way the man-woman couple who publicly commit to sharing life and love in the hope of having and raising children. This is what we have always called “marriage” and it was originally the business of families rather than of the church or the state.

When civil societies gave legal recognition to marriage they were describing a pre-existing reality, they were not defining something new. Marriage was recognised as being about procreation – having children – and the present law does not recognise a marriage as valid unless it is consummated by ordinary sexual intercourse.

It is dangerous to redefine marriage because it is such a basic concept threaded through all our legal and social systems.

What are the consequences going to be of this change? Who can envisage them all? Law holds up ideals to society as well as setting limits; it has a teaching role. Widening the definition of marriage will blur this teaching.

Will groups within society who employ married couples be permitted to discriminate on the basis of wanting hetero-sexual couples? Will marriage, already under threat from no-public-commitment co-habitation become less attractive to young couples?

Another danger to redefining something is the precedent it establishes; if marriage can be redefined once, it can be redefined again. What of polygamy? Why is marriage restricted to couples? We could be stepping unwarily on to a slippery slope that could change our society out of all recognition.

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The Civil Union Act generated a huge bill for government departments as innumerable forms required adaptation to allow for the public recognition of those unions.

The same departments will incur another significant expense as every marriage document and database has the words “bride” and “bridegroom” removed and replaced by some bland gender-neutral term. The symbols and customs of marriage are an interlinked network of mutually supporting ideas. Changing the definition rips a hole in that web of symbols and weakens the whole structure.

It is unnecessary because the New Zealand Civil Union Act has allowed almost all the legal rights of marriage to same-sex couples.

New Zealand is already an extraordinarily tolerant society, especially younger New Zealanders. The perceived problem is not of the scale to justify such a fundamental change in our legal system.

Redefining marriage is social engineering of unprecedented proportions. Law is the servant of society and it should not be used to change the fabric of that society.

This is a classic clash between liberals and conservatives. Liberals believe they can make things better, conservatives want to hold on to what is good. Our recent unfortunate experiment in lowering the drinking age to promote good drinking habits is an example of how change does not always make things better.

At the very least, New Zealand could afford to wait and see what effect changing this law has in other countries. Will Spain and Scotland be the better for it?

In the interests of full disclosure – I am not married (though my parents were). I am a Catholic priest who lectures a course on the theology of marriage at Good Shepherd College in Auckland and I have been the celebrant for many weddings.

The Catholic Church has clear teachings on marriage, including that it be between one man and one woman, but marriage pre-dates the church and exists well beyond its scope. Despite the Christchurch Press quoting me as saying “the sanctity of marriage is threatened”, I am not presenting religious arguments against this law change. It is not the sanctity under threat, it is the legal definition. This is of concern to all citizens.

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