The effort to redefine marriage began on August 29th, 2012 when New Zealand's Parliament passed a bill officially entitled the "Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill" by an 80-40 margin which would ultimately legalize gay marriage. However, this vote was merely the first of three affirmative votes which must take place before it can become law; after a grace period allowing written input from the public until October 26th, a second reading in Parliament is expected to take place in March 2013. If the second vote is also affirmative, the third and final reading could take place as early as April. Passage of the law would also allow gay couples to adopt children. Although polls at the time indicate that two-thirds of New Zealanders support gay marriage, opponents to the bill, organized by the conservative lobby group Family First, promptly presented a 50,000 signature petition to the parliament.
Immediately after the first vote, 70 different religious leaders issued a joint statement opposing the bill. On October 5th, as the deadline for written submissions in oppostion to the bill approached, the New Zealand Christian Network asked its members to write to the government in opposition to the redefinition of marriage, and urged pastors to speak out against it in their Sabbath sermons. As a result, on October 26th, Elder Michael Roberts, who is the Area Seventy for the Pacific Area, issued the following official statement:
The protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman is a matter of the common good and serves the wellbeing of the couple, of children, of civil society and humankind. We join with others to affirm that marriage in its true definition must be protected for its own sake and for society’s good.
We also assert the existing rights of religious groups to solemnize marriage exclusively between one man and one woman according to religious tradition and individual conscience. The meaning and value of marriage precedes and transcends any particular society, government or religious community. It is a universal good and the foundational institution of all societies. It is bound up with the nature of the human person as male and female and with the essential task of bearing and nurturing children.
We also recognize the serious consequences of altering this time-honoured definition. One of these consequences – interference with the religious freedom of those who continue to affirm the true definition of “marriage” – warrants special attention within our faith communities and throughout society as a whole. We believe that changing the definition of marriage would have far-reaching negative implications for the nation, both legal and social.
Therefore, we encourage all people of goodwill to protect marriage as the union between one man and one woman, and to consider carefully the far-ranging impact for religious freedom if marriage is redefined. We especially urge those entrusted with the public good to support laws that uphold the time-honored definition of marriage.
Because our society includes many groups with differing views, we reiterate our desire for protection of marriage to be pursued in a respectful way, acknowledging society’s diversity.
On November 29th, Bob McCoskrie outlined some of the legal ambiguities of the bill and discussed how they might cause some people to run afoul of anti-discrimination laws simply by obeying the consciences. During the first reading of the bill, MP Louisa Wall introduced the bill with the verbal assurance that the bill does not require any person or church to carry out a marriage if it does not fit with the beliefs of the celebrant or the religious interpretation a church has. The problem is that the bill does not contain any conscientious objection clause to that effect. So the bill's proponents want religious groups and ministers to rely solely upon the verbal assurance, and on section 29 of the Marriage Act 1995 and the abstract right to freedom of religion, for protection of conscience. But section 29 was passed into law nearly 40 years ago - before the current anti-discrimination laws - and was not intended to address the current situation.
What has happened elsewhere when gay marriage has collided with a Christian's conscience? A comment posted by a Canadian reader, Sarah Shaw, answers that question:
...I am a Canadian from Edmonton, Alberta and can certainly agree that there will be consequences for religious freedom. We are frequently told by gay activists that marriage can be redefined & that there will be virtually no consequences for society. But this is just not true. The experience of Canada, my home country, which has had same-sex marriage for years now, shows us this very clearly.
There have been hundreds of proceedings in courts, human rights commissions & employment boards against critics and opponents of same-sex marriage. Religious groups & leaders have been punished. For example the Catholic Archbishop of Calgary was forced to answer to the Alberta Human Rights Commission for preaching the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage.
Prominent Canadian sportscaster, Damien Goddard, was fired for tweeting his support for traditional marriage. There is now a government-funded "registry of homophobic acts" to keep track of complaints from gays. The most concerning consequences are those that impact children and school. The claim that same-sex marriage has no consequences has certainly been disproved in Canada.
And it can happen in New Zealand -- and even in the United States -- as well. The first step might be withdrawal of the tax exemption. But would we stand for the government disincorporating our Church seizing our temples because we refuse to solemnize gay marriages? Remember how the US government responded to polygamy with the Edmunds-Tucker Act.