Same-sex marriage in New Zealand has become a near
certainty after legislation to allow it passed its first
reading in Parliament on Wednesday by 80 votes to 40. Labour MP
Louisa Wall, who is sponsoring the Marriage (Definition of
Marriage) Amendment Bill, says the legislation will not force
church priests or ministers to conduct same-sex marriages. So
why has the Bill attracted so much opposition from church
leaders? Reporter Allison Rudd investigates.
Old Testament scholar and Anglican priest The Rev Dr James
Harding at his parish, All Saints Church, North Dunedin.
For Neill Ballantyne, who is gay and a Christian, the
likelihood same-sex couples will be able to marry is
something to be celebrated.
New Zealand introduced civil union ceremonies in 2005 and
since then 2152 couples - 1685 same-sex couples and 467
opposite-sex couples - have opted for civil unions. To all
intents and purposes, civil unions are almost identical to
marriage. But they are not marriage.
Mr Ballantyne, the Otago University Students Association
queer support officer and national secretary of the Student
Christian Union of Aotearoa, said the legislation would be an
important symbolic change, allowing couples of all sexual
orientations to finally be treated equally.
"The institution of marriage holds a lot of cultural value
and acceptance and it is important for same-sex couples to
have that right.
A separate civil union ceremony, even if such a ceremony is
available to opposite-sex couples, is degrading.
It's not about the numbers, it is about rights and choices."
If the legislation is passed, it is not clear whether
ministers and priests will be able to opt out of marrying gay
While Ms Wall says they will, a legal opinion obtained by
Family First NZ from barrister Ian Bassett says marriage
celebrants, including church ministers, will be in breach of
the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and the Human Rights Act
1993 if they refuse to perform their public function because
a couple seeking to be married is gay.
It is also not clear how many same-sex couples will want a
church wedding. Already, it is estimated only about 20% of
marriages are conducted by priests or ministers and have any
Mr Ballantyne knows some conservative churches and Christians
strongly oppose the legislation, believing homosexuality is a
sin and allowing same-sex couples to marry strikes at the
heart of their theological belief that marriage is the
preserve of one man and one woman.
New Zealand's mainstream churches have been grappling with
those issues for years.
Some, like the Catholic Church, have definite views and seem
in no hurry to review them.
Other denominations have started or completed the debate.
In 1990, Dr David Bromell, of Dunedin, was ordained as the
first openly gay Methodist minister in the country, sparking
a furore which eventually split the church.
Many members, some ministers and several entire congregations
left in protest and established the breakaway Wesleyan
Methodist Church in 2000.
The Presbyterian Church, which had allowed the ordination of
gay ministers, banned similar appointments in 2004 and went
It issued a moratorium saying no-one "in a sexual
relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a
woman" could be ordained or a church leader, effectively
ruling out gay people and those in de facto relationships.
The Anglican Church also has a moratorium against the
ordination of people living in openly gay relationships. Now
it is tackling the issue head-on, establishing a commission
to summarise the biblical and theological work done by the
church on the ordination of gay priests and same-sex civil
unions during the past 30 years.
The commission's report on options and implications of change
will be discussed at the 2014 Anglican general synod.
The Rev Dr James Harding, assistant priest at All Saints
Anglican Church, North Dunedin, and a senior lecturer in Old
Testament studies at the University of Otago, said the debate
going on in Parliament was unlikely to influence the views of
anyone in the church.
While most church leaders agreed that the Bible was the
authority on marriage, they disagreed on how to interpret
scripture, he said.
"On one hand, we have conservatives who are very attached to
the idea of marriage being one man, one woman, and very
attached to the thought that that is the only way to read the
Liberals, on the other hand, would prefer to look at the
quality of relationship that two people have, regardless of
the gender they happen to be."
The concept of marriage in scripture developed over 2000
years into "a rich and complicated idea", he said.
"The gay marriage debate raises the point that it is very
difficult from scripture to decide, 2000 years after the
texts were written and 10,000 miles from where they were
written, exactly how to apply them now."
In Old Testament times, 3000-5000 years ago, there was a
deeply patriarchal society.
A daughter was part of her father's household and another man
paid a bride price for the right to take that daughter as his
woman. Polygyny - where a man could marry several women but a
woman could not marry more than one man, was the norm.
These days, Old Testament texts were often ignored or mocked,
"You can find that mocking quite easily on the Internet,
where Biblical marriage is defined as having 300 wives and
700 concubines or being raped and being forced to marry your
By New Testament times, the definition of marriage in
scripture had evolved.
"That is obvious. It had evolved to the point where the
writer of Ephesians, thought to be Paul, doesn't think of
marriage in polygynous terms but thinks of it as one man and
one woman ...
That picks up on the Creation story, where the woman is
created as a companion for the man."
Modern-day churches did not pick and choose randomly what
they believed from the Bible, but relied on the New
Testament, Dr Harding said.
However, even conservatives inside and outside the church
sometimes changed their minds about homosexual relationships.
"Usually, it is because someone they care for deeply is in a
same-sex relationship - a child, a brother or sister, or,
very occasionally, a spouse who comes out to them.
"They change their minds because they love that person for
who they are and they realise their sexuality is not the
thing that can prevent them continuing to love them."
Both Dr Harding and Mr Ballantyne believe New Zealand will
continue to slowly liberalise its view towards same-sex
relationships and marriage.
But Dr Harding said it was much harder to see what direction
the churches would choose - whether they would entrench or
He emigrated to Dunedin from the UK nine years ago and said
Anglican church leaders there who had supported the
decriminalisation of homosexuality in England in 1967 seemed
to be gradually becoming more conservative in their views.
Whatever happens with Ms Wall's Bill, both Mr Ballantyne and
Dr Harding say there will continue to be Christian gay,
lesbian and transgender people who struggle to find a church
Some, like Mr Ballantyne, will switch from a more
conservative denomination or congregation to one they feel is
"Unfortunately, I do think a lot of gay Christians lose their
faith or move away from the church full stop because they see
it as a persecutor, rather than the home it is meant to be,"
Mr Ballantyne said.
"But I do not think homosexuality and Christianity are
mutually exclusive. I hear many, many stories of people who
have been able to comfortably bridge the two."
Dr Harding said it was time all churches became more
welcoming and "stop being hung up on sexuality".
"I hope the church will eventually start focusing on things
that are really important - child poverty for example - with
What do churches believe?
The Otago Daily Times asked 12 churches for their view on
amending New Zealand's laws to allow same-sex couples to
formally marry. Here are their responses. Some have been
Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
Our church has not developed a view on this specific matter.
The only body in our church which has the power to approve
legislation is the General Assembly, which meets every two
Methodist Church of New Zealand
We have not had an opportunity to discuss same-sex marriage
and do not have an official policy.
Catholic Church of New Zealand
We have major reservations, mostly because it is attempting
to redefine what most people in most cultures actually
understand marriage to be, namely the union of a man and a
woman for their own mutual support and for the procreation
and raising of children. Many Catholic leaders would accept
that civil unions affirm the aspirations of same-sex couples
to have their lifelong commitment to each other publicly
recognised, but such a same-sex partnership is not a
Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and
A commission of eminent people . . . has begun the task of
clarifying the choices the church faces over the ordination
and blessing of folk who are in faithful, committed
same-gender relationships and identifying the implications of
those choices. It will present a final report to the 2014
General Synod. At its meeting in Fiji last month, the 2012
General Synod also resolved to ask [congregations] to hold
conversations with the church and the wider community about
the nature of marriage ...Until those discussions have been
held and that debate concluded, there is no Anglican Church
view, just the views of individual Anglicans.
Jehovah's Witnesses base their firm beliefs on the Bible
[and] the view we hold is clear. The Bible disapproves of
homosexual acts, but does not encourage hatred of
homosexuals. To the contrary, the Bible assures us that God's
will is "that all sorts of men should be saved and come to an
accurate knowledge of truth". (1 Timothy 2:4) For this reason
we ... encourage attendance at our meetings whatever the
sexual orientation persons may believe they have. We cannot
amend God's law in either the Old Testament or the New
Testament, so cannot agree with any laws that would condone
same-sex marriage. If the laws are changed by legislation we
would still be guided by the laws of God's word, the Bible.
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Marriage is neither a matter of politics, nor is it a matter
of social policy. Marriage is defined by the Lord Himself.
The church has a single, undeviating standard of sexual
morality: intimate relations are proper only between a
husband and a wife united in the bonds of matrimony. The
Church's opposition to same-sex marriage neither constitutes
nor condones any kind of hostility towards homosexual men and
women. Protecting marriage between a man and a woman does not
affect church members' Christian obligations of love,
kindness and humanity toward all people.
Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
We believe the same values, benefits, obligations and
responsibilities of marriage should be available to same-sex
couples as are available to opposite-sex couples. (Minute 11
of our yearly meeting, 2000). Quaker weddings and civil
unions, whether same-sex or heterosexual, are conducted
during a worship meeting. We have legal exemption from the
requirement to have a celebrant. This derives from our
historic marriage practice from 17th century England onwards.
The Salvation Army declined to comment. No responses were
received from the Baptist Union, Seventh Day Adventists, City
Impact Church or Destiny Church.
Gay marriage quotes
What the Bible says about marriage
"[Jesus replied] In the beginning God made a man and a woman.
That's why a man leaves his father and mother and gets
married. He becomes like one person with his wife. Then they
are no longer two people, but one." Mark 10:6-8
"Having your own husband or wife should keep you from doing
something immoral." Corinthians 7:2
What the Bible says about homosexuality
"It is disgusting for men to have sex with each other, and
those who do will be put to death, just as they deserve."
"Women no longer wanted to have sex in a natural way and they
did things with each other that were not natural. Men behaved
in the same way. They stopped wanting to have sex with women
and had strong desires for sex with other men. They did
shameful things with each other, and what has happened to
them is punishment for their foolish deeds." Romans 1:26b,27
"Don't you know that evil people won't have a share in the
blessings of God's kingdom?
Don't fool yourselves. No-one who is immoral or worships
idols or is unfaithful in marriage or is a pervert or behaves
like a homosexual will share in God's kingdom. Neither will
any thief or greedy person or drunkard or anyone who curses
and cheats others." Corinthians 6:9,10