Unique Status for Marriage is Not 'Homophobic', Bishops Say

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - The Catholic Church in New Zealand has waded into a national debate on proposed legislation to give homosexual relationships equality with marriage. They argue that giving marriage a unique status has nothing to do with "homophobia" or denying free "choice."

New Zealand's Labor government plans to place a bill before parliament within weeks that would give homosexual and unmarried heterosexual couples the right to register their relationship with state authorities as a "civil union."

An accompanying bill will remove the terms "marriage," "husband" and "wife" from more than 100 pieces of legislation. Together, the two pieces of legislation will give same-sex couples the same legal rights and benefits as married couples.

Lacking a majority in parliament, Labor usually has to rely on an allied party, United Future, to pass legislation. In this case, however, the Christian-based United Future is strongly opposed to the proposed Civil Union Bill.

Party leader Peter Dunne told a recent conference the legislation was "pure social engineering and the ultimate in political correctness," adding that parliament had no mandate from voters to push through the bill.

The government has found the support it needs from the Green Party, which says the legislation will "help lessen the discrimination suffered by same-sex couples." The Greens argue that "New Zealanders have moved on from a one-belief, one-religion, and one-size-fits-all approach to how we live our lives."

Together, Labor and the Greens control 61 seats in the 120-member legislature. When the legislation comes before parliament, however, members will be allowed a conscience vote, so hard lobbying is underway on either side of the issue to try win over wavering lawmakers.

Against that background, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' Conference wrote to all lawmakers this week, detailing its objections to the measure.

The bishops said that just because "fair-minded" New Zealanders wanted homosexuals to enjoy fair treatment, that did not mean they were willing to give up the special position marriage has in the legal system.

"Serious discussion on what makes marriage different from all other relationships should not be diverted or manipulated by accusations of 'anti-gay' or 'homophobic' or 'anti-choice' against those who defend the uniqueness of marriage," they said.

Backers of the bill point to earlier New Zealand legislation requiring the government not to discriminate unlawfully against citizens because of characteristics such as their marital state or sexual orientation.

But, the bishops said, it was false to assume that homosexuals had "rights" based on homosexuality itself. Instead, they could not be deprived - on the grounds of their homosexuality - of any right that belonged to them as human beings.

The choices some people make have consequences, they said.

"We all have to live with the consequences of our choices, and sometimes the choices we make limit our other options and entitlements."

The bishops said the bill implied that other people have an obligation to accept, and even to approve, whatever choices an individual makes.

The Civil Union Bill, along with several other controversial pieces of law, has arisen out of the Labor Party's "Rainbow Policy" manifesto, a 2002 campaign document undertaking that the party will ensure "equality in law for gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender relationships and family structures."

Two Labor lawmakers are homosexuals and a third is a transsexual.

The Maxim Institute, a conservative think tank lobbying against the Civil Union Bill, said the legislation was being promoted in the name of human rights and equality.

"However, this move is the latest attack in a campaign to destroy the foundational place of marriage which provides a socially approved context for sexual relations and raising children," it said.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow