An open letter to the Church in NZ on Same-Sex Marriage

Dear fellow Church members,

This is an open letter about the Same-Sex Marriage debate to the Christians of New Zealand.

I have been a supporter of Marriage Equality for the LGBTI community in New Zealand for several years. To me it’s very simple, every person should have the right to be married to the person they love regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe marriage is a government institution; the church does not own it. Whether religious or not, we all have the same marriage certificates. A person’s faith or religious affiliation makes no difference to the legality or substance of their marriage. So if marriage is a government institution, there can be no discrimination.

I have had countless conversations around this topic in my role as a broadcaster working mostly in current affairs and talk radio. Something that has become blatantly obvious to me is that the position held by many opponents of Same-Sex Marriage, whether they are aware of it or not, has more to do with their opinion on homosexuality itself than with marriage equality. Many opponents of marriage equality come from a religious background, and they default to what they have been taught in churches about homosexuality as the basis for their position.

There seem to be three main lines of thought amongst Church members when it comes to Same-Sex Marriage.

  1. Homosexuality is natural and normal for a small portion of the population, therefore we are discriminating against this people group by not allowing them to marry.
  2. Homosexuality is not natural, and it’s a choice. Therefore there is nothing wrong with keeping a sector of society from marrying as you cannot discriminate against a ‘choice’.
  3. Whether we like it or not, there is already legislation that doesn’t allow discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation, so matter what we believe about homosexuality we must make marriage available to the LBGTI community.

For me I find myself firmly in third camp. For me the conversation about the legalisation of ‘gay marriage’ has not one jot to do with religion, religious beliefs or the church. It’s a legal certificate that is issued by the Government, not by the Church, and as a ‘Government institution’ all should be able to benefit from it. In my support of Same-Sex Marriage I don’t even need to go to the first or second point above as they are irrelevant to the question at hand.

I’d like the conversation to be as simple as that…but there has been so much mistruth and exaggeration in the media surrounding this conversation, that I think we need to address it. These are what I believe are the key misconceptions relating to this issue.

But if we give the gays marriage next people will want multiple wives

No country in the world that has legalised Same-Sex Marriage has gone onto legalise Polygamy, and in the countries where polygamy is legal you probably don’t want to be gay as you may literally lose your head for it. However there is a libertarian view where some would say that if three or four consenting adults want to live in that kind of union, then does it really matter? I find it ironic that many who would reject the government’s over-involvement in their lives, and fight for the freedoms they see as important to them, are happy for the government to be involved in other people’s lives and legislate their freedoms away from them, when they disagree with those freedoms.

If we let the gays get married next they’ll want to adopt

I am of the firm opinion that the best place for a child to be is in a loving family with their biological parents under the same roof. In fact I believe that research has shown that when that couple is married it is even better for said child. But to then assert as some are that ‘gay adoption’ would be the worst thing possible for the child, on that point I will depart from many. I think that a loving, stable same-sex couple is going to provide a far better environment for a child than some of the tragic cases that have unfortunately become all too common in the news here in New Zealand. We only have to mention a few names, such as Decelia Witika, James Whakaruru and Nia Glassie to remind ourselves that many of our tragic and deplorable child abuse cases have occurred at the hands of straight parents, step-parents or caregivers. Would a loving and stable same-sex couple have provided a safer home for those children? Absolutely.

The bible is clear, ‘No’ to Gay Marriage

This is where the debate gets heated, as there are many theologians who believe emphatically that the bible teaches against homosexuality and homosexuals. That is not my personal view, and neither is it the theological view of an increasing number of bible scholars. One point that many of my theologian friends agree on, even those who are very conservative on this issue, is that if anything the bible talks about a sexual act, not a sexual orientation. This can be interpreted as the bible saying nothing about homosexuality or same-sex attraction at all, only about specific sexual acts.  Where then does that leave the heterosexual couples who engage in those particular acts? This is a complicated and much fought over area of biblical scholarship, and deserves a post of its own another day. But if, like me, you see marriage as a government institution and therefore as a right for all, then biblical interpretation regarding homosexuality is irrelevant in this conversation.

How dare this PC Government ride rough shot over the voice of New Zealanders!

The majority of polls that have been taken regarding marriage equality have indicated that in 2013 New Zealanders are affirming the move towards Same-Sex Marriage. However there is an old adage that if you live by the poll, you die by the poll. So if you bank your argument on the fact that most New Zealanders support your position this time, what about when they don’t? People tend to use polls when those polls support their argument, and then deride polls and pollsters when they don’t. For the Same-Sex Marriage conversation in my opinion it’s an easy one. Human rights should never be based on mob rule. The government needs to do what is right for that sector of society irrespective of what anyone, even a majority, may think.

The Gays will force ministers to marry even though it’s against their religious beliefs

This was an ill-conceived tactic by the opponents of Same-Sex Marriage. We have been assured since the beginning stages of this legislation that the law would be amended so no one had to perform a ceremony that differed with their religious beliefs. But even more than that, what LBGTI couple, on their special day, would want to force a minister to marry them? As promised, the new draft of the law allowed ministers and marriage celebrants associated with a church to decline to perform Same-Sex ceremonies based on religious beliefs. Non-religious marriage celebrants will not be able to turn couples away because of their sexual orientation, much like they can’t turn a couple away based on their age, their ethnicity or any other discriminatory issue where their ‘personal religious belief’ is not a factor and I think that’s fair enough.

Churches will be forced to hire out their premises.

Now this one is true but in my opinion very misleading and yet another red herring. The reason it’s misleading is that this is current law. If a church hires out its premises to the public, they cannot turn away a gay person or couple who want to hold an event there. Yes obviously there are no marriages happening right now between two men or two women in a church so that would be a new addition to a current law. But if a gay couple came to a church who hired their hall out to the public, and that couple wanted to hold a civil ceremony to declare their love to one another and be legally joined, right now under current law, that church could not discriminate against a gay couple.

One of the unfortunate by-products of these public conversations is that many outside the church now see those inside the church as being the reason their LBGTI brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, or children cannot marry. They see the church, supposed to be the representative of Jesus on earth, as rejecting their family and friends. They often conclude, not unreasonably, that this means Jesus rejects the gay community.

The recurring catch-cry of those in the church in response to the above accusation is, “but you don’t understand Pat, we love the sinner, but we are called to hate the sin.” I am sure most of those in the church have heard that phrase before and I think it is time to set the record straight. The concept of ‘loving the sinner and hating the sin’ is unbiblical, in fact it is the opposite of what we are called to do. Dr. Tony Campolo points out that what we are actually called to do is “love the sinner and hate your own sin, and after you get rid of the sin in your own life then you can begin talking about the sin in your brother or sister’s life.” I think he is right. Jesus said of the men who were, by law, allowed to stone the woman caught in adultery to go ahead…so long as none of them had sinned. We are told to not worry about the speck of dust in our neighbour’s eye when we have a plank of wood sticking out of our own.  Just think about that for a second, imagine if that was the filter we ran our lives through. Imagine if we truly loved people around us, end of story, and saved our judging for ourselves.

Finally, I want to encourage my fellow church members not to worry. The concern and near- hysteria that has erupted in response to the Marriage Equality Bill, which looks set to be passed this week, is simply unjustified. If you do not support the LBGTI community’s right to marry that’s your business, but please don’t believe any of the ‘slippery slope’ arguments that have been thrown around. This is not the beginning of the end of civilization and it’s not attack on marriage, not on your marriage nor mine. It’s a bill that redresses an inequality by giving all people the right to marry, a right which should already be guaranteed under current law. In other words it’s a ‘wrong’ that needs to be ‘righted’.

Pat Brittenden is a broadcaster, blogger and commentator and the executive producer and host of elephantTV

37 thoughts on “An open letter to the Church in NZ on Same-Sex Marriage

  1. mobfiz@gmail.com April 13, 2013 / 23:28

    Pat, the argument is not really about marriage.

    It is about adoption.

    A child is better off – argue if you like – with Mum and Dad.

    Two gay guys would be at the best a little creepy with an adopted daughter.

    What do you thik ?

    • Dr Stuart Edser April 14, 2013 / 00:20

      Mobfiz, the argument is not about adoption. It is about marriage, and always has been, in every country where such legislation has been proposed. It is about whether gay people are to be treated the same as everybody else in their relationships or whether they will be treated differently – the definition of discrimination.

      And of course, children are better off with a mother and a father, but we live in a world where this does not always work out; a statement that is not controversial. That is why we have adoption. And most adoptive parents do an incredible job of loving a child, nurturing it, protecting and educating that child for a good life. At this time, gay couples are not permitted to adopt, although individual gay people are. The implication, left specifically vague in your last sentence, is deeply offensive to gay people like me and proven wrong if you care to look at the research, when, if “at best” two gay guys adopting a daughter is “a little creepy,” then I shudder to think what such a family would be at worst in your estimation? For mine, I know gay couples who are raising their kids, boys and girls, with the utmost commitment and doing a brilliant job.

      • mobfiz@gmail.com April 16, 2013 / 07:04

        Dr Edser I stand by my statement that 2 carefree men adopting a daughter is creepy. And do you know of such a family ?

    • Stu Pettigrew (@liveinstutopia) April 14, 2013 / 00:25

      why would it be creepy?
      It would be creepy if a heterosexual or homosexual couple, that were creepy had an adopted daughter or son.

      I agree it would seem strange for a while but i firmly believe that loving parents can raise a loving child, regardless of their gender.

      • mobfiz@gmail.com April 16, 2013 / 07:36

        I think strange and creepy are synonymous in this case.

        • Gee April 17, 2013 / 17:33

          So you’re basically for restricting personal liberty because it’s ‘icky’

          • mobfiz@gmail.com April 17, 2013 / 19:06

            Yes Gee, I think the personal liberty of the little girl, and her right to brought up with a loving mother and father are much more important than the rights of her carefree parents. A child in this situation is little more than a trophy.

    • Pat Brittenden April 16, 2013 / 09:43

      As to your original question, I would say this conversation is not about adoption, it’s about Marriage, hence being called the Marriage Equality Act

      • mobfiz@gmail.com April 16, 2013 / 14:41

        The name of the bill is I think, quite irrelevant. It should more accurately be called The Redefinition of Marriage Act. Interesting to hear that Australia has rejected the idea. We should too.

    • Zeborah April 17, 2013 / 19:22

      There’s nothing creepy about two gay guys adopting either a girl or a boy. A gay man by definition is sexually attracted to other adult men; he would have no more interest in a child of either gender than would a heterosexual man or woman.

  2. Mike April 14, 2013 / 00:05

    I don’t see how you can say marriage is of the government and not the church. The government was founded BY Christian kiwis – based on their faith and only acknowledges those beliefs. With paper. My only comment would be that forcing an institution to HOLD the service that it – wrong or right – holds to be wrong is not in keeping with my live and let live philosophy.
    .

    • Pat Brittenden April 14, 2013 / 16:29

      My assertion is three fold, firstly marriage has been around long before the church was, the church didn’t own it then so why now? secondly in the earliest times of human existence there was marriage in other cultures that had no lineage to the God of the Hebrews either before or after Jesus, if the church owned/owns marriage how come marriage existed/exists in those cultures/counties? Finally we all know people who don’t believe in God, who don’t follow the teachings of the bible, in fact who ridicule the ‘concept’ of God, who are still married. They have the same marriage certificate that we who believe in God have…is marriage belonged to the Church how do they have the same certificate we do? Answer – because marriage in NZ is owned by the Government.

  3. Lisa Michelle April 14, 2013 / 17:26

    I love you, brother. And I love the way you love as Jesus loves. Stay you 🙂

  4. Melanie B April 14, 2013 / 22:33

    Hey Pat,
    It was with some trepidation that I approached your post – it’s been a long time since we were at St Andies together so I couldn’t anticipate what you might think and I have a gay brother so this issue is personal for me.

    Thanks for putting together a great opinion piece and I agree with your viewpoint… all except the bit which says that children need to have a mother and father to thrive…. I think the stable and loving environment is key… not the gender. silly study!

  5. Pat Brittenden April 14, 2013 / 22:38

    Thanks for your thoughts and being brave enough to read my rantings Mel. Just a quick clarification, I didn’t say that ‘children need a mother and father to thrive’, what I said is based on international research that shows statistically children have the best chance of success in life (however they define ‘success’) when they live with a mum and dad who are married. That doesn’t mean that LGBTI couples can’t have kids that thrive as well. Blessings

  6. margot clarke April 15, 2013 / 08:49

    Marriage – when a couple decide to connect their lives to each other. In law they promise to look after each other , financially, health and dependants – open to being aged parents, siblings, children from previous relationships , in fact a designated person who the couple, backed by the Law pertaining to legal relationships, shall benefit from marriage. Sexual orientation should not even come into this legal document, we are talking about the human rights of individuals to commit to one another. With regard to adopted children, ask any youngster who has suffered because the sacred trust of an adult to protect children has been broken. Examples – mothers, fathers, step fathers siblings, school teachers and ministers. So the argument that same sex married couples should be any more of a threat to a child is not valid, any person can threaten a child, if they are allowed to get away with it, or carers do not have a close and caring relationship with the youngster.

  7. Kate April 15, 2013 / 12:29

    oh, Pat – maybe I misunderstood what I read in my Bible but I thought God etablished marriage? I just wonder why the homosexual and lesbian community aren’t satisfied with the civil union legislation that was passed a few years ago? For me, I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman and ideally should last until one of them dies. And as much as I respect your intelligence and opinion, I find I agree more with Bob McKroskie on his “no need to re-define marriage” views.

    • Pat Brittenden April 15, 2013 / 15:52

      Not being a part of the LGBTI community I cannot speak on behalf of them, but what I gather is that they think of it as a ‘second class’ certificate. Society find that marriage has more importance and there is more ‘reverence’ to marriage. Therefore there is an inequality in the terms and how society treats them, the LGBTI community was equality

      • Kate April 15, 2013 / 16:38

        Pat, thanks for your response to my comment. Vonny’s comment about “a very vocal minority to introduce civil unions” reminded me of the fact that at the time there was denial that they wanted anything more than civil unions but, of course, now they have that, they want more (jut like children, in a way) and I think “they” is (or, are!) the same vocal minority demanding that marriage be re-defined to suit that minority. My understanding is that there is more objection to the redefining of marriage than is reported in mainstream media and that the treatment of some who bravely chose to make a verbal submission to the Select Committee was nothing short of downright disgusting – and I thought members of select committees were (or should be) impartial whereas some of that particular committee were plainly in favour of marriage being re-defined which begs the question of why they were on it?! Thanks, Vonny for your support! I quite expected that I’d be shot down because the majority of comments seemed to be in favour of the proposed legislation change (and it ain’t over yet).

        • Pat Brittenden April 15, 2013 / 16:58

          Cheers Kate, I don’t want anyone to come here and be shot down as then it doesn’t become a safe place to talk,,,and that’s what I want 🙂 I think what we have amongst many is simply a disagreement on why ‘the vocal minority’ should get ‘whatever the argument of the day is (in this case marriage.) For me, it’s an issue of rights, everyone has the right to access this government institution, and rights should never be based on what the majority thinks. Apart from the fact that the majority of polls support the legislation change as I talk about in my post. If we always went by ‘what the majority wants’ we’d still have white male landowners only voting, segregation in the southern states of America and many other ‘today rights’ where the government over ruled the majority.

  8. Vonny April 15, 2013 / 15:45

    Kate, You have it in a nut shell. Why , when NZ was forced by a very vocal minority to intorduce civil unions, do these same people now wish to take from the rest of us something that has been , as Pat states an institution, ie marriage defined as a union between a male and a female for centuries and claim ownership of it. Surely it is more about justification of a position which is tenuious at best.

    • Pat Brittenden April 15, 2013 / 15:58

      I don’t think I said that marriage is defined “as a union between a male and a female for centuries” as quoter Vonny. The truth is marriage wasn’t always defined between man and women, pre theodosian code marriage amongst same sex couple was not the marority, but wasn’t uncommon. Check out my introduction for elephantTV for some more of the history of marriage http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C_XYFkrrC7M

  9. Margaret April 15, 2013 / 21:04

    Vonny, I’m sorry you haven’t had the opportunity to meet people who have had civil unions and to understand how important they were for the couple and their families. I was involved in the Civil Union campaign. In 2004, I thought that Civil Unions were hugely important for legal protection and recognition for glbt couples. People had been denied access to partners in hospital, excluded from funerals, and many other injustices. At the time almost all churches and church organisations opposed civil unions. These are the same churches that now say that civil unions are fine, but enough. Marriage would have been impossible to achieve then. I am glad that the law passed and the day that I joined my partner in civil union was one of the happiest in my life.

    Two years ago, before the Marriage Amendment bill was drawn, some first year university students came to talk to me (as a Christian) about supporting marriage equality. They started an organisation called Legalise Love which is now on several campuses. At the time of the Civil Union bill going through parliament they were barely teenagers. They are the generation of marriage campaigners and they understand about the indignity of being excluded from marriage. It’s not just a word for them, it’s what it stands for. They want marriage not just because of rights, but because of belonging to society. And because they believe that the most important aspects of marriage are love and commitment.

    In 2004, marriage equality was unachievable politically. Now a new generation of New Zealanders have grown up knowing gay friends, and friends with gay parents. They are unwilling to live in a society with the present inequality. I am supporting the campaign in solidarity with, and admiration for, these young people. And I am glad that the majority of MPs are listening to their voices.

    I won’t go in to the substance of the arguments which I think Pat Brittenden has made brilliantly.

  10. aspielawyer April 15, 2013 / 23:59

    Thanks Pat. You have articulated my own views almost perfectly, but with much more backing. I can come up with the rhetoric, but you have spoken succinctly and totally in lime with my own opinion.

  11. Paran April 16, 2013 / 21:38

    Pat, I am writing to you assuming that you are a fellow believer, if you are not then please disregard.

    1. I was of the understanding that marriage was initiated and defined as a covenant relationship by God well before the government insisted that it should be legislated.

    2. In the bible we are commanded to love our wives and also to love our enemy does this mean that you believe we should have the right to marry our enemy? The reason I ask this strange question is to point out that the type of love you appear to be advocating is discriminatory to those with arranged marriages whilst the biblical command is not. Just because I love someone (or are required to) does not give me the right to marry them.

    3. Are we then to call what is sin not sin? Are we then expected to condone what God has not condoned? Admittedly we all sin but are we to provide anyone with permission to sin? Are we to somehow deceptively hint that God gives anyone permission to sin? If homosexual acts are sin then providing gay marriage is giving people the licence to follow through with their intention to sin. I am pretty sure that the LGBTI community is not just getting married to file joint tax returns. Even Jesus admonished the adulterous woman “Go and sin no more”.

    • Pat Brittenden April 17, 2013 / 00:21

      Hey Paran, I think I have explained fully in a previous answer why I think that marriage is owned by the government, not the church which means your questions around biblical interpretation and theological opinion doesn’t really matter to me in this conversation, furthermore, and respectfully, I don’t think there is any point in you and I having this conversation. I have seen these conversations before between you and bloggers like on RevTalk (http://revtalk.co.nz/2012/07/marriage-a-gift-from-god/) and it’s obvious to me that you have many opinions to make, but it seems that a conversation doesn’t really happen, so rather than getting into a thread that goes for a long time and get’s no-where I’ll just say thanks for reading and wish you the best.

      • Paran April 17, 2013 / 11:47

        It is owned by neither church nor government. A marriage is a covenant relationship between 2 people and God.

        • Kate April 17, 2013 / 16:25

          I agree, Paran – that’s always been my understanding of what marriage is – between two people, ie. one man and one woman, and God. I don’t know where the government comes into it other than through the Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths as a record for statistics and that makes sense to me. Marriage does not need to be re-defined.

  12. mobfiz@gmail.com April 17, 2013 / 06:44

    Pat, Paran’s points are valid and his reasoning very sound. Your difficulty speaks volumes.

    • Pat Brittenden April 17, 2013 / 09:50

      I have no difficulty here, I have just made a choice, I have chosen to walk away from a pointless ‘fight’ rather than get involved. I’m not saying his perspective to him and others is not valid…to them, and I have no problems with engaging with the conversation and offering answers, counter points and arguments to all this points (although the one about ‘marrying your enemy is rather random) I just choose not to as I don’t want to happen on my page a long winded diatribe (if I’m honest probably from both sides) that ends up nowhere. If someone wants to see that they can just go to Paran’s conversation here http://revtalk.co.nz/2012/07/marriage-a-gift-from-god/

      • Guy Nitschke April 17, 2013 / 17:38

        Hey Pat B 🙂
        Yep you do have a problem there. I read your open letter. Courage all right. Misguided though brave.

        I made a choice too, to believe Gods Word. The God inspired Word clearly states what homosexuality is. I’m clear on it. Its realllyyy easy and simple.
        And…
        Marriage came from , God .
        Doing a Bible study this week on Romans 1 and we are at vs 18 onwards.
        Makes for interesting reading for those that want to as its relevant for this topic.

        Last thought…. Adam and Eve …not Adam and Steve.
        Kind regards and Blessings.
        Guy

        • Kate April 17, 2013 / 20:21

          Agree with you, Guy and you expressed it very well. Incidentally Campbell Live’s txt poll this evening on what was called the Marriage Equality Bill came in with a resounding 78% NO (28% YES) to the question “Do you agree with the Marriage Equality Bill” but I imagine Pat would say that it’s not up to the majority. We’ll see later tonight….

          • Pat Brittenden April 17, 2013 / 21:29

            You’re right Kate it’s not up to the majority…but to speak to your point. The poll you are referencing could never be used to demonstrate what NZer think, it can be used to tell what viewers of Campbell Live think, on that night who had a phone and chose to connect. To take a poll/research seriously, as in to use it as evidence, there has to be many scientific parameters around it. I have stated several times that most (if not all) scientific polls shows support of Same Sex Marriage is a majority, but none of my arguments are based on that fact, as it’s dangerous to back yourself with a poll as what do you do when the ‘poll du jour’ doesn’t fit with ones argument.

          • Kate April 17, 2013 / 21:49

            Fair comment, Pat – ok – so the poll was participated in by people watching Campbell so have to agree on that – however it was a huge majority and I think Campbell gets a large audience! Would like to continue on this but I have something else that is important that I should be working on. In closing, I used to enjoy your Rhema talkback and rang in a couple of times on different topics. Hope you and your family are well

          • Pat Brittenden April 17, 2013 / 22:55

            Cheers Kate, all the best 🙂

        • Pat Brittenden April 17, 2013 / 21:25

          Hey Guy, in your bible study was it pointed out that Paul was writing to heterosexuals? And some theologians say that is a heterosexual has a gay relationship it’s ‘unnatural’. A gay couple doesn’t swap heterosexual relations for homosexual ones, so it doesn’t relate to them. Ever heard that interpretation? Plenty of biblical scholars think it.

          And for clarity the bible says nothing about same-sex attraction, or the orientation of homosexuality that’s why even the Catholic Church says that same-sex attraction is not a sin. the debate is about anal sex…so how does that relate to marriage?

  13. margot clarke April 17, 2013 / 08:26

    The fact that marriages are arranged for no better reason than economic gain, is to me a further reason for allowing any consenting adult to marry. Love does not feature in the marriage of a couple for economic reasons, but may grow from the union. Same sex couples cannot breed without a third party, so we cannot argue this couple are going to some how genetically influence their “children”. What we do know is that people have lived with same sex partners by choice, people who we see as valuable in all other sectors , gifted people from all walks of life – do we have the right to declare they are some how sub human, as say African Americans were regarded , during the years of slavery?

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