Some good speeches last night during the committee stages. No amendments got accepted but I would make the point that I had no problem with one of the amendments – it was more than it is un-necessary.
I believe no marriage celebrant should be forced to officiate at a marriage that they don’t wish to. As a matter of law, I don’t think they can be forced under the current Act. Section 29 talks about authorising, but not obliging. This means that for example Catholic priests can refuse to marry a divorced person.
There is also the practical issue that Kiwis are pretty common sense on these things. Why would anyone want to force an unwilling celebrant into marrying them, on what should be their happiest day. You’d be nuts to. So while there are some important principles at stake here, let’s not think that this will ever have practical impact.
Now the Select Committee said that there is a concern that possibly some church ministers could face an issue under the Bill of Rights Act. Bearing in mind the fact no Catholic priest has ever faced action for not marrying a divorcee, I think the possibility was remote. However they said let’s be explicit instead of implicit and give celebrants who represent a religion a clear statement they can not be forced.
One of the amendments yesterday was to extend that explicit exemption to all celebrants, not just religious ones. I didn’t have a huge problem with this. In fact I am a bit nervous about singling out celebrants who represent a religion as more deserving. So that amendment passing wouldn’t have been a major issue for me. But likewise if no celebrant had an explicit exemption, I’d be okay with that also as I believe the current S29 which only authorises but not obliges is enough protection. And finally of course it is all highly unlikely to ever be tested as no one wants an unwilling celebrant at their wedding.
Anyway some extracts from MPs speeches. Moana Mackey:
And can I just point out an issue of reality, which is that this is unlikely to be a problem. On one of the most important days of your life, I do not think that any couple is going to want to have someone presiding over their ceremony who does not want to be there and who is there only under the threat of legal action. That is why this has never been an issue since 1955. It has not been an issue since the Civil Union Act came in in 2004. I do not believe it is going to be an issue going on into the future.
And on the referendum issue:
Members mentioned Switzerland, where they do these issues by referenda all the time and as a result women did not get the vote until 1971—1971. I want to tell members the reasons that were given at the time were that men and women are fundamentally different. On the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs website they point out, saying … What the department said at the time—one of the reasons given as to why women should not be given the vote—was that “It wouldn’t promote equality because their natural modesty would stop them going out to vote when pregnant, and since rural women have more babies than those in town, this would give an unfair advantage to the latter.”
People can always find a reason to oppose change.
There is one final element that influenced me, and it was this. This bill takes nothing away from anybody. It actually takes nothing away. Those who argue that it does somehow reduce us as a society, in terms of our spirituality, certainly have a difficulty with me because there is nothing about my relationship, my family, my marriage that is negated or diminished in any way. I know that the institution of marriage has been developed for a long time, and no doubt will continue to develop. It is not set in a form that has always been the same. It has always developed. A bit like our society and our civilisation, this institution will also develop.
I have certainly struggled with this bill and given it a great deal of thought because it lies in the territory between two of my core political philosophies. My conservative instincts on one hand lead me to respect traditions and the wisdom of centuries. Marriage has traditionally been conceived as being between a man and a woman, and in the British and Christian traditions for centuries it has been between one single man and one single woman. That has been the case only because it has made perfectly good sense. Institutions and ideas change over time, but the conservative in me makes me hesitate before changing something that has served society well for so long. I certainly understand and respect the strength of feeling of many New Zealanders who feel that we should keep things the way we are. Running parallel to that, however, my guiding political belief is my commitment to freedom for people to live their lives in different ways with respect. Life is interesting, society is dynamic, and culture is diverse when people are free and have the liberty to live in different ways. It was 25-odd years ago when we agreed that the State should not outlaw homosexual acts and very few people disagree with that now. So I can understand why some gay couples would like to have access to the institution of marriage. People often ask “Well, why do they want marriage when they can have civil unions already?”. The answer is, of course, that words are important, which is why people on both sides feel so strongly about it. On balance, I have decided that for me freedom or individual conscience trumps tradition, so I am supporting this bill.
A nice contribution from Goldie, on balancing his beliefs.
My background has been that I was raised in the Christian faith in the Baptist church. Many of my relatives and friends from that background are disappointed that I am voting for this bill, and I understand their disappointment, but I would remind them that the Baptist church was born out of the idea of non-conformity. The early Baptists gathered together because they disagreed with aspects of the established church and suffered terribly for their individual beliefs. That tolerance of religious non-conformity, which English-speaking peoples had arrived at, certainly by the nineteenth century, was fundamental in establishing many of the freedoms and the liberties that we enjoy today.
Paul is a writer of history so knows his stuff.
It is highly likely the third reading will be on Wednesday the 17th of April.