Thursday, May 13, 2004

Marriage, Civil Union, Omnibus Bill

Did a rant on radio recently about marriage, the Civil Union and Omnibus Bill.

Now I want to stress that these are my personal thoughts. They do not represent any group I work for. And I also want to stress that these are my thoughts in progress. I am still listening, still thinking, still processing. But at this point I like the legislation …
continues under heading of What is marriage; and What is justice


I ask myself, What is marriage?
Firstly, it is a ceremony in which social relationships change. In front of the community, marriage acknowledges, brings into the open, a change of relationship between two people, their family and friends. It is matter of honesty and community.

Secondly, marriage is a social arrangement in which love and trust are shared. Commitments are made that affect things like property rights and the raising of children.

Thirdly, it is an entry into a way of being with God, a Trinitarian relationship, where 2 become 1 in the site of a third, God.

Fourthly, it has a societal history, an understanding and a tradition built up over time.

It seems to me that the Civil Unions Bill acknowledges these differences. It asks for 1 and 2, but not 3 and 4.

It seeks to honour, to preserve, the Godly understandings and historical rights.

It acknowledges that there are historical and theological traditions that need to be honoured.

We live in a plural world. Not everyone thinks like me. This cuts both ways. I have respect others opinions and traditions. Others have to respect mine traditions.
This means
1) that the rights of those we disagree with must be respected. Thus Christians must respect gay-rights, while gay-rights must respect Christian rights. Equally the gay community must respect the sacred and historical understandings that underpin Christian ideals of marriage.

I think the Civil Unions Bill does this. The Christian Heritage NZ leader Mr Ewen McQueen has argued these the Civil Union and Omnibus Bill will stripping marriage of any last vestige.

Frankly, the only people that will strip marriage of its vestiges are us. The Civil Unions Bill does not take away marriage. It leaves the uniquely Christian understandings of marriage to the church. It remains up to us as a church to honour marriage, to teach on Trinity and history and what that means for marriage.

With regard to the Omnibus Bill, I think we do have to recognise the justice issues involved. It seems to me to be unjust when a gay partner is not allowed to visit his partner in intensive care or see his partner in the mortuary, or to seek the cremation of his dead partner.

Then there is the justice issues involved as relationship break up.

In Micah 6:8, we are asked;
What does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.

The Greek word dikaiosune is can be translated as both justice and righteousness.
Seek you first the Kingdom of God and God’s dikaiosune; God’s justice and God’s righteousness.

The Omnibus Bill does seek for justice and surely we as followers of a God of justice need to recognise this. Surely our Christian God applauds the seeking of justice and the end to discrimination.

I repeat my opening – this is my personal opinion and I am a mind still in process.

But that is my soapbox today:
what is the God of justice?
what does the Christian understanding of marriage
really require of us?

Posted by steve at 09:58 AM

15 Comments

  1. for the record – I think you are right. Frm an Anglican perspective, a better Civil Union law in this country would solve the anomaly of a priest being asked to solemnise a marriage within a Christian ceremony, for a couple who are not Christians but find this is the only place they can find the history and ritual element of marriage. I’d like to see all marriages solemnised legally; and those that also want the Christian element to have the further ritual of blessing thereafter. Problem solved. (probably…)

    Comment by maggi — May 14, 2004 @ 1:32 am

  2. as an atheist, i entered a (now failed) marriage that was a purely secular union. it deserved to be a legally recognised partnership, but it had nothing to do with Christian concepts of marriage.

    now as a christian, marriage is to me a completely different insititution, with a completely different set of meanings. if i were to marry now, i would not expect the law of New Zealand to encompass or understand those meanings. i would prefer to have them recognised by the church, the body of believers.

    A civil union and a Christian marriage are two very different things! The church doesn’t need secular laws to confer meaning on Christian marriage. Nor is that meaning threatened by the law’s (necessary) efforts to define and regulate the completely separate institution of civil unions.

    If I married now, I would need legal recognition for that marriage to come from secular law. I would want Christian meaning for that marriage to come purely from God and the church.

    Comment by kelli — May 14, 2004 @ 10:17 am

  3. A reasonable case could be made to show that our God of Love and Justice discriminates in favour of marriage.

    The question is should we?

    Or more importantly, should we declare a preference in the public arena?

    Well, only if we think our culture is best served by promoting the institution of marriage over and above other forms of co-habitation.

    We can address the ‘justice’ issues you raise without removing or re-defining the construct of marriage in our statute books which I understand the omnibus bill seeks to do.

    Let’s hold fast to what is good, while showing compassion for those who make other lifestyle choices.

    Comment by Brendan — May 14, 2004 @ 11:05 am

  4. I asked the following questions to a discussion group in class the other week as part of a discussion relating to sexuality.

    How would your church treat the following couples?
    - A long-term de facto couple.
    - A couple married in the registry office (not a church wedding)
    - A non-Christian couple married in church.
    - A Christian couple married in church.
    What actually constitutes marriage from a biblical (OT & NT) perspective?

    Listening in on the discussion it seemed that it was the last question that generated the most discussion as the assumptions we make about “Christian marriage” were held up against the biblical text.

    Comment by Stephen — May 14, 2004 @ 1:12 pm

  5. Stephen, I’d like to know why we would treat them any different at all. But I`d be interested in anyones thoughts on what consititutes mariage from a biblical perspective.

    Comment by dave — May 15, 2004 @ 12:20 am

  6. could depend on where you start …. anyone for Biblical marriage as polygamy as with Solomon and Abraham …
    sorry, bit, tongue in cheek, but the point is that “biblical marriage” does need to be applied with care.

    Comment by steve — May 15, 2004 @ 3:10 pm

  7. As outsider, I don’t want to pretend I understand an issue affecting NZ but as gay Christian had slight trouble with these 2 sentences: “Thus Christians must respect gay-rights, while gay-rights must respect Christian rights. Equally the gay community must respect the sacred and historical understandings that underpin Christian ideals of marriage.” It sounded to me like 2 separate and somehow hostile species negotiating. I want to be part of the body of Christ, not outside. Maybe this isn’t fair. I thought of black people once having to drink from a different water fountain. Maybe I am over-reacting.

    Comment by Jeff — May 16, 2004 @ 4:22 am

  8. thanks Jeff
    the sentences do need to be read in the context of a seamless radio speech, discussing 2 groups (“Christian” and “gay” groups) and in response to this legislation, in which the two groups are portayed in the media as antagonistic. i feel it is unfair to cut and paste the sentences out of that context – in which it is, to use your words “2 separate and somewhat hostile species negotiating”. In the context of the topic – marriage – in NZ – there are some fairly hostile comments being made.

    it was not a generic comment on body of Christ/gay/Christian, and in that context, I appreciate your heads up comment.

    Steve

    Comment by steve — May 16, 2004 @ 8:38 am

  9. and further …
    the 2 sentences are I think the heart of my argument – gay lobby want the right of marriage and the church have a historic right of marriage – how, in a tolerant society, are the rights of all respected? and that is why i like the legislation, because I think it respects rights

    if gay lobby wanted marriage, that would be a far more conflicted challenge for the church/sacred/historic.

    now will your reply will be …. as a gay Christian, I want that sacred/historic church understanding applied to my relationship? … which might just blindside me!

    steve

    Comment by steve — May 16, 2004 @ 9:00 am

  10. Steve – Thanks for your kind and perceptive thoughts. This legislation might be a solution that brings peace without denying important differences (or assaulting sacred tradition).

    I keep thinking of the different members of the body holding onto their difference but also harmonizing in 1 Corinthians (and this made me realize how often when ONE passage in Paul seems to raise a problem, the solution can be found in ANOTHER passage in Paul).
    Jeff

    Comment by Jeff — May 16, 2004 @ 6:44 pm

  11. good point Jeff re Paul – again, i doubt that many supporters of the civil unions bill would consider themselves part of a Pauline ONE body.

    Comment by steve — May 16, 2004 @ 10:32 pm

  12. I agree with you Steve that Civil Unions are better than ‘gay marriage’, and it leaves both groups with (ostensibly) their own institution with which to work. I also agree with you that the worst enemies of marriage are often married people.

    However, the implications of the legislation that goes before parliament on the 24th June is massive. The companion ‘Omnibus’ Bill will rewrite 150+ statutes and effectively make de facto, civil unions, and marriages the same before the law.

    The Civil Unions Bill is in effect gay marriage. There is no need for a secular union for heterosexual couples because currently the marriage ceremony can be as secular as the couple likes, the only reason Barnett et al are pushing this is to get the equivalent of gay marriage.

    Do you agree that marriage is something unique, special, and desirable from God’s perspective and/or from society’s?

    It seems to me that Gay and marriage do not mix because marriage is by defintion male and female in union. (No offence intended to Jeff)

    What I am wary of is that following this legislation the “gay lobby” will not respect our views on marriage and legislate against the “hate crime” of speaking against homosexualism.

    What I am afraid of is that we will be unable to promote marriage as better/different than other forms of relationships, and that schools will be required to teach children that de facto and same-sex partnerships are just another choice in the pastiche of the sexual marketplace.

    People with liberal views on such things do not necessarily think that people who oppose them should be allowed to do so. More precisely, it is in fact the stated goal of many people to destroy the married two-parent family (cf. Foucault).

    Comment by Paul — June 12, 2004 @ 2:03 am

  13. thanks for the comment – you are a bit of night owl – posting at 2 in the morning! i am still in process on this, but my thoughts are

    YOU WRITE> The Civil Unions Bill is in effect gay marriage. There is no need for a secular union for heterosexual couples because currently the marriage ceremony can be as secular as the couple likes, the only reason Barnett et
    al are pushing this is to get the equivalent of gay marriage.
    >

    The CUB is gay marriage legally but not in other ways – including name. marriage has legal, social and religious dimensions. The church has a historic view of marriage as in sight of God … and so I support legislation which allows people who don’t share these views to have legal safety… it makes them and the church far more real and honest.

    YOU WRITE> Do you agree that marriage is something unique, special, and desirable from God’s perspective and/or from society’s?

    yes, which is why I support the CUB legislation because it preserves the uniqueness of marriage, both for church and historically, male and female, as you allude below

    YOU WRITE> It seems to me that Gay and marriage do not mix because marriage is by defintion male and female in union. (No offence intended to Jeff). What I am wary of is that following this legislation the “gay lobby” will
    not respect our views on marriage and legislate against the “hate crime” of
    speaking against homosexualism.
    >

    exactly my point. I have said this to Tim Barnett and he said it was very wise. tolerance cuts both ways. yet surely this legislation does respect church views on marriage?

    YOU WRITE> What I am afraid of is that we will be unable to promote marriage as better/different than other forms of relationships, and that schools will be
    required to teach children that de facto and same-sex partnerships are just another choice in the pastiche of the sexual marketplace.
    >

    Welcome to life post-Christendom …. we the church have lost our privileges. So how then do we live … by being faithful to our convictions
    in the midst of the sexual marketplace … by celebrating Valentines Day and offering marriage seminars … not by seeking to impose our views on others.

    YOU WRITE> People with liberal views on such things do not necessarily think that people who oppose them should be allowed to do so. More precisely, it is in fact the stated goal of many people to destroy the married two-parent family
    (cf. Foucault).
    >

    I am yet to be convinced that “destroy married two-parent family” is anything more than a conspiracy theory coming from an overheated Christian propoganda machine … Foucault is a long way from middle NZ, the great
    swathes of suburbia.

    thanks Paul for your thoughtful response … I am in process on this issue and it is good to be asked to think further

    Comment by steve — June 12, 2004 @ 1:47 pm

  14. Good points all round – especially Steve – both of you. There is currently no date set for the introduction of the bill into the House, that date may well be announced after Mondays Cabinet Meeting. No-one has even confirmed that the Omnibus bill has been drafted yet – and that is the reason for the hold-up. Both bills are being introduced at the same time.

    Steve wrote “if gay lobby wanted marriage, that would be a far more conflicted challenge for the church/sacred/historic”. Well, the gay lobby does want marriage. It just acknowledeges that it wont happen at this present time.

    In any case, as Jeff alluded, I don’t really think this marriage debate should be one of Christians v homosexuals. The reason being that many people who are not Christian do have strong convictions about marriage as being between a man and a woman, whereas many Christians don’t. The two bills take in the legal and social aspects of marriage while leaving out the religious aspects and the name “marriage”.

    From what I have read – and I have seen one of the drafts of the CUB, and have had stuff from Tim on the Omnibus Bill – the Omnibus Bill is gay marriage legally, the CUB, in addition, can be seen as gay marriage socially, as it is social recognition of unmarried relationships. However, keep in mind that there are more than 50 statutes that do not differentiate between married and unmarried couples.

    I don’t think the CUB legislation “respects” church views on marriage. It reflects the view initiated by Tim Barnett that the CUB is politically achievable – so it actually is closer to respecting other MP’s views on marriage. Most MP’s will not vote for a gay marriage bill. The reason the CUB did not surface earlier was that most MP’s would not have voted for it – but they may well now.

    I guess many in the church – now in post Christendom mode – are trying to be being faithful to their convictions, it’s just that these changing convictions are being influenced by the sexual marketplace. Life post Christendom doesn’t mean that anyone who sees marriage as different from other forms of relationships should blindly accept that schools are going to nornalise gay relationships in the school cirriculum. That’s nutty. If you extend that argument you may as well accept school teaching normalising necrophilia, polygamy, polyamory and bestiality as well – or is that too extreme.

    Finally, know of several people in prominent groups who would love to see the married two-parent family down the tubes – and have publically said so.

    Comment by dave — June 12, 2004 @ 4:53 pm

  15. Thanks for your response. I was awake because of back pain and an
    overactive mind. My late night blatherings could have been a bit more
    useful, so sorry if I sounded like another limb of a Christian propaganda
    machine.

    I appreciate your views, and I have been fluctuating back and forth between
    views for a while now. I am currently leaning towards the more conservative
    end of the spectrum on this one, but with more deliberation my position may
    change. I just want to do what is right in God’s eyes.

    I appreciate that we are now living in a post-christian society, and that we
    cannot expect society to follow the path we want it to. In a pluralist
    society we are faced with how to distribute justice to a broad variety of
    diverse sociological groups, and that is a real challenge. However, I do not
    think that this necessarily means that “Christian values” should not be
    active in public policy formation.

    Marriage is one of those issues that presents itself as a real problem,
    because it is not merely a Judeo-Christian phenomenon – marriage is
    something that spans cultures and times to include all races and creeds
    (except secular humanism!). Uniquely, for a secular humanist the destruction
    of marriage’s privileged position in society is an important goal, because
    of the emphasis placed on structures and control (which you would know far
    more about than I).

    Marriage is, I think, something God honours everywhere; and when marriage is
    dishonoured God is too. Marriage is, I think, meant to paint us a picture of
    how God (someone ‘other’ from us) loves us, and the theological significance
    of marriage in the Bible is huge. The biblical use of marriage as an
    illustration and metaphor tells me there is something special about marriage
    and the union of male and female.

    It is clear from scripture that homosexual sex (homosexualism) is a
    deviation from God’s desire; it is a corruption of his image and therefore
    sin – just as fornication is. The hypocrisy of heterosexuals has been for
    many years the moralistic distinction between fornication and homosexualism.
    All forms of fornication, I think, stem from, more than anything, the lack
    of good fathers and a society replete with false masculinities. So, I do
    agree with you that the role of the Church is to live our view and not
    impose our view, and our personal witness is key.

    However, we still have to deal with two things: Marriage is good, and
    marriage is good for children. I would be really happy if my non-christian
    friends who are in long-term relationships would get married because I think
    it is something that God honours, and that their relationships will be
    blessed because they are married. I know this is not an exactly profound
    argument, but I cannot help but think that God wants people to get married.

    Children are the ones who benefit from marriage the most, which is something
    the Maxim Institute is big on (despite what people say they are not
    extremists, conservative yes but extreme no). Marriage is the most
    deliberate attempt to form an enduring family unit consisting of a mother
    and father who will be the biological parents of any children the
    relationship produces. All statistics indicate that children born into a
    marriage are far more likely to succeed in life than those born outside.
    Although facts are not valued in a post-modern world it does no mean we
    should ignore them.

    I do not wish to impose my views on anyone, and do not expect the World to
    agree with me. However, that there is a small group of elite in the halls of
    power that are seeking to impose their minority views on New Zealanders.
    That may sound like a conspiracy theory, but it is true. They are trying to
    remake the social fabric of NZ in their own image.

    I don’t think that, for example, Tim Barnett wants to destroy the “nuclear”
    family. When I met Barnett he seemed to be a really open-minded and
    accepting guy with a lot of grace. Barnett is quite happy to have Unions and
    marriage as separate institutions with different cultures. I’m pleased that
    Gay Marriage is not on the agenda, despite the fact that Civil Unions will
    be effectively Gay Marriage.

    However, the philosophy behind Labour’s public policy is undeniably anti
    ‘nuclear family’. While Foucault, Butler, et al might be a world away from
    middle New Zealand they sit opened on the desks of the people who dictate NZ
    public policy. Creating an institution is an act designed to reshape society
    and culture.

    I’d appreciate anymore thinking-out-loud you’d like to do in dialogue with
    me on this one.

    Comment by paul — June 13, 2004 @ 8:42 am

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