This may surprise some, but I actually have a great degree of respect for people of faith and religions.
I believe that Christianity has overall been a force for good in society. I also believe the same of many (not all) other religions such as Buddhism.
While my personal level of faith is not strong, my preference if I get married would be to do it in the Anglician Church I was baptised into. Also if I had children, my preference would be to baptise them, and have them attend church until they are at an age where they can decide for themselves if they wish to continue. Those preferences are not strong ones, and any future Mrs Farrar would decide if they felt strongly for or against.
I respect that marriage has been a religious ceremony for over 2,000 years, albeit not exclusively. In ancient Rome it was very much a legal and religious obligation. In recent times many people marrying have not been religious at all.
Out of respect for various religions, my ideal situation would be to have the state not involved in defining who can or can not marry. I would have the state register partnerships between people for legal recognition, and reserve the term marriage for religions. This means someone could register a partnership with the state, and then if they wanted to they could also have it recognized as a marriage by (for example) the Catholic Church.
Churches could decide amongst themselves whether or not they recognise each other’s marriages. Hopefully none of them would recognise a Scientology marriage 🙂
This viewpoint is quite common with classical liberals, and I know a few MPs who have a pretty similar view.
However as John Key said recently, when you come into politics you don’t start with a blank slate of paper. You start with New Zealand the way it is today.
The reality is that marriage has also been a state institution for hundreds of years. Marriage is recognised by international agreements in pretty much every country on earth. If an MP wants to put up a “Repeal of Marriage Act”, vesting the title in religions – I’d support that. I don’t think it would get many votes though, and would clash with international agreements.
Hence we are left with the fact that for the foreseeable future, marriage is going to remain a state institution, and the question is should the state deny that institution to same sex couples. Saying you won’t vote for same sex marriage, because you think the state shouldn’t decide who can get married is, with respect, a bit of a cop out. The state does decide, and that is never likely to change.
The Marriage Act already explicitly states (s29) that “a marriage licence shall authorise but not oblige any marriage celebrant to solemnise the marriage to which it relates“. No church or celebrant can be forced to perform a marriage ceremony that they don’t want to, such as a same sex marriage – a view confirmed by the Human Rights Commission. This means that religions keep their autonomy over recognizing marriage, but that the state (if the bill passes) does not itself block same sex couples from marrying. It is the best and fairest position for those who think the state should not be involved in marriage.