Marriage Equality is the New Civil Rights Movement

It’s probably been fairly obvious for a while that I am a supporter of marriage equality.  I have always viewed same-sex marriage as a cut and dry case of civil rights. I believe that marriage is a governmental institution, not one that belongs to the church. Marriage, in its many forms, pre-dates the church. And as discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in New Zealand, it is obvious to me that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry is discriminatory.

I myself got married fourteen years ago, on a bright winter’s day in June. I hardly thought about marriage as a right back then. All I knew was that I was in love with a beautiful girl and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was a case of opposites attract, and we had no idea how much work our love was going to take, but here we are all those years later, and the cliché is true. We are more in love than ever before.

For us, marriage was a right of passage, the beginning of a journey that forced us to grow up like nothing else could. Statistically speaking, marriage improves every success marker for the couple and the children that may come from that marriage. Marriage done well makes everything better – and I can vouch for this. Marriage is also the ultimate gift. There is no other commitment quite like it. Marriage is the fullest demonstration of love that can be given from one person to another. It’s an amazing, life-giving transaction and it can only build stronger families and therefore stronger communities. Why would we want to withhold this incredible gift from anyone?

After watching Selma recently I finally came to the conclusion that the current battle for marriage equality is akin to the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960’s. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. It has similarities with the world-changing battle that Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others fought (and sometimes died) for. Marriage, for the spiritual, emotional, physical and legal benefits it offers, is a civil right.

In New Zealand we have been fortunate enough to have had both civil union and same-sex marriage legalised. But until same-sex marriage was legalised couples who were joined by civil union could not avail themselves of the Matrimonial Property Act, or adopt children. In other countries where same-sex marriage has not been legalised, gay couples are significantly disadvantaged. They are withheld rights to hospital visitations, medical decision making, adoption, parenting rights and automatic inheritance, among other rights.

John Lewia on Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965
John Lewis on Pettus Bridge in 1965

You may not recognise the name John Lewis, but he was with Martin Luther King on the bridge at Selma, and is considered one of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights leaders. He is the only member now still alive. He is a Christian and has been an American Congressman for more than 25 years. If there is anyone who has the right to compare the fight for marriage equality with the civil rights movement it is him. He was there in the thick of it then, and judging by his political and religious positions he is still in the thick of it today. There is literally no one else on the face of the planet who can look at these two issues, compare them, and speak to them with as much authority as John Lewis.

As a response to President Obama’s public support of Same-Sex Marriage Congressman John Lewis said:

Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.

Even as early as nine years prior to President Obama’s public statement, John Lewis was beating the drum for marriage equality. In 2003, the man who was at the front of the march with Martin Luther King wrote an article for the Boston Globe that stated:

“I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Sometimes it takes courts to remind us of these basic principles. In 1948, when I was 8 years old, 30 states had bans on interracial marriage, courts had upheld the bans many times, and 90 percent of the public disapproved of those marriages, saying they were against the definition of marriage, against God’s law. But that year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in America to strike down such a ban. Thank goodness some court finally had the courage to say that equal means equal, and others rightly followed, including the US Supreme Court 19 years later.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as [human beings] do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being [human beings].

John Lewis today
John Lewis today

He couldn’t be clearer; the fear and intolerance that leads people to seek to withhold the right for same-sex couples to marry is the same as the “fear, hatred and intolerance” that Lewis and the civil rights movement faced in the 1960’s.

As a follower of Jesus I want to be in the camp that stands up and speaks out for the disenfranchised. I want to speak up for those whose voice is not always welcome, not always heard. You can throw all the bible verses you like at me, and I’ll say simply that Jesus’ commandment to love one another trumps them all.

Some people may be unaware that the work I do for elephantTV is done jointly with my wife Idoya Munn. Although I am the presenter of the episodes, behind the scenes the project is carried 50/50 between us. This is the first post in a series, and we’ve written the next one together.

As I said in my earlier post, genuine comments and healthy, constructive conversation are welcome.

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

Public Statement about leaving Rhema

On Wednesday of last week I was informed that the Rhema Broadcasting Group would not be renewing Pat Brittenden Mornings for 2013. I was also informed that I personally would not be required for the new incarnation of the 9am to midday show.

From the outset I have always said that as a contractor to RBG that I may, or may not be required at the end of my current contract.

It has been clear since new radio management took over in the last few months that a talk product was not the desired direction in 2013 and last week the decision to move away from talk and back to a yet-to-be-finalised music product aimed at the Christian market was made official.

In the period leading up to that official decision I made it clear to management that I was prepared to look at working with RBG on a music format radio show as many of my 15,000 plus hours on New Zealand airwaves have been working in music along with, in later years, focusing on talk-radio but this offer was not accepted.

I want you to know that this is not a mutual decision, I made it clear that I was available in 2013 should RBG want to use me either in the current form, or in a new style show. They did not.

I hold no hard feelings about the decision, I made the offer to be a contractor at the start of the year, I negotiated the idea of being a contractor rather than an employee and this is one of the pitfalls of that decision.

I also want to state publicly that I am saddened that Rhema has decided to move away from the talk product, I think moving back towards a music product will make for a weaker overall station and will somewhat silence, good intelligent debate and challenging conversations and opinions that not only the church, but society needs to hear. The idea of steel sharpening steel has always been my desire no matter where I was working, it was no different at Rhema. In saying that I again acknowledge that it is RBG’s prerogative to do so, and accept the decision with no animosity and I do genuinely desire to see RBG succeed in everything she does.

I have potentially some very exciting opportunities lining up for 2013 including the television series I have been working on, elephantTV, the media and marketing business that my wife and I run and a couple of other things that need to remain a little more ‘under the radar’ at the moment. I will say as of today I have no other radio opportunities lined up and don’t know if you’ll hear me somewhere else in NZ…or not.

I wanted to put this in writing so as to dismiss any rumour or confusion as to why I have moved on from Rhema. There is nothing worse than the listener of a radio station not knowing what has happened to the host they built a relationship with over a period of time. You may hear rumours of survey results or money, I do not believe these are the main reason for the non-renewal. I believe it simply comes down to not fitting in with the picture or future direction of the station that the new radio management has, a bit of a square peg in a round hole, and that’s okay for those who haven’t worked in radio that’s what happens. A new style comes with a new management and you either fit, or you don’t.

I want to acknowledge the RBG Executive and Board for taking a risk on an announcer who was ‘the most complained about host on Newstalk ZB‘ and pay special credit to Terry Cobham who fought to have me in the building. Also to my executive producer, the back bone of the show, the woman whom I call the ‘CEO’ of Pat Brittenden Mornings, Nerida Ashcroft, what can I say other than “thanks…it’s been a blast!

My expectation as of today is to work out my contract which finishes on December 21st, I look forward to a fun three weeks of broadcasting as we lead up to Christmas and I wish New Zealand’s Rhema all the best for 2013 and hope that I can be involved with her at some stage again on some level.

I would very much like to hear from you if you are a listener of Rhema in the next three weeks, we will be doing a lot of Christmas talkback so hopefully you can join in.

If you would like to keep up with my exciting life in 2013 you can follow me here (I promise to get back into writing), or my facebook page, or twitter account.

Pat

UPDATE, Friday 30/11, 3.18pm

I am now at home after a brief chat with my boss. I need to amend part of the above post to say that I am now finished at Rhema. When I was told last week that the show would not be renewed I immediately asked for what the radio industry calls ‘gardening leave’ which basically means you wrap up on air immediately but are technically still employed by the business. I asked my immediate manager, and a manager higher up the food chain and was declined, but today I have been told that that option is where Rhema wants to go.

I am sorry to miss you people who listen to me and not to be able to wrap up the year together, but this is a standard way to finish a contract not being renewed and it means I can look to 2013 and figure out how to ‘pay the bills’ etc…

I have been told by a manager that there are some inaccuracies in the above post, and have offered to change those inaccuracies if they are pointed out to me. My offer was declined and when I asked what was wrong in the post I was told, “it doesn’t matter now, it’s done.” I still make the offer that if I have made an inaccurate statement in the above post, please let me know and I am happy to correct it.

Again let me finish by saying that I am not upset, angry or annoyed with this outcome. I accept that RBG has the right to change direction, and whilst mine, and many other opinions may not agree with the directional change, it’s the right of the group to do so.

Again I say all the best to my colleagues at Rhema, and I do wish all the best for 2013 and beyond.