Church leaders write open letter to MPs about marriage definition bill

WELLINGTON — Archbishop John Dew of Wellington is among the signatories to an open letter to Members of Parliament ahead of the second reading debate on the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill scheduled for March 13.

The text of the letter is as follows:-

11 March 2013

Marriage Bill – Open letter from Church Leaders to Members of Parliament

We urgently call on Members of Parliament to uphold the definition of marriage as held in human societies across the world for thousands of years, that marriage is between a man and a woman.

We ask Members of Parliament to consider:

The degree of opposition to the bill
The shameful process for dealing with the bill
The many strong arguments against the bill
The likelihood of discrimination against those who disagree with the bill
A. A secular study has shown that more than 20% of New Zealanders (over 800,000 people) attend Church on a regular basis. Not only do studies indicate that Christians make a significant contribution to this nation, but as the statement by Church leaders last August showed, there is an unprecedented level of consensus among the churches against this bill. On this issue, we believe our view accords with the position of the majority of New Zealanders, many of whom are deeply upset that Parliament is even considering this change.

B. For a bill that was not in any party’s manifesto, and the effect of which would be to make such a radical change to a foundational institution of our society, to be forced through by a process which has lasted barely a few months, and contrary to the deep beliefs and values of a very large proportion of this country’s people, is shameful and totally inconsistent with the spirit of democracy. A recent newspaper article has also highlighted the strong bias of the Select Committee against those who made submissions opposed to the bill.

C. We do not intend to repeat here all of the arguments made in the written and oral submissions. Suffice to say, the definition of marriage does not need to be changed to ensure equal rights for people in same-sex relationships. In fact, equality already exists, (with the main exception of adoption, which is so important that it really needs to be debated as a separate issue).

D. If Parliament passes this bill into law, then overseas experience strongly suggests that state pressure will eventually be brought to bear against people’s freedom of conscience and speech.

We ask therefore that you include clear and specific protection in the bill for these freedoms as guaranteed in the Bill of Rights Act 1990 and Human Rights Act 1993 so that there will be no confusion with Section 56 in the Marriage Act which makes it “an offence” for any person to express the belief that “lawfully married persons” are not “truly and sufficiently” married.

We suggest an extension to Clause 56 along the lines of…

“Notwithstanding Parliament’s provision for people of the same gender to be legally married to each other, as a reflection of Parliament’s commitment to diversity and equality, in the same way freedom of belief and freedom of expression in relation to marriage shall be fully protected, and any person or organisation shall retain the right to hold the belief (on cultural, religious, or other grounds) that marriage should only be between opposite sexes, and persons and organisations holding or respectfully expressing such a belief may not be discriminated against in any way or forced to act against their own cultural or religious beliefs.”

We maintain however that the proper course of action for Parliament is to reject this bill, or at the very least hold a Royal Commission of Enquiry followed by a referendum.

Signed by (partial list) …
Rev. Andrew Marshall (National Director, Alliance Churches of New Zealand)
Rev. Illiafi Esera (Assemblies of God, Superintendent)
Rev. Craig Vernall (Baptist, National Leader)
Archbishop John Dew (Catholic Bishop of Wellington)
Rev. Ray Coster (Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand)
Mr. Brent Liebezeit (President of Christian Churches New Zealand)
Pastor Dr Brian Hughes (Calvary Chapel)
Mr. Peter Eccles (Chairman, Auckland Congregational Union churches)
Rev. Dr Neville Bartle (National Superintendent, Church of the Nazarene)
Pastor Mike Griffiths (Elim, National Leader)
Mr. Glyn Carpenter (Director, New Zealand Christian Network)
Pastor Ken Harrison (Harvest Christian Church Papakura, AOGNZ)
Rev. Dr Stuart Lange (Presbyterian; Senior Lecturer, Laidlaw College)
Rev. Steve Maina (Anglican, New Zealand Church Missionary Society)
Pastor Sam Monk (Equippers Church, Auckland)
Pastor Peter Mortlock (Senior Pastor City Impact Church)
Pastor Rasik Ranchord (New Life Churches International)
Pastor Lloyd Rankin (National Director, Vineyard Churches Aotearoa New Zealand)
Pastor Dean Rush (National Leader, C3 Churches of New Zealand)
Rev. Dr. Richard Waugh QSM (National Superintendent, Wesleyan Methodist)

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