Tauranga ministers divided by gay marriage bill

By Brendan Manning, John Cousins

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Same-sex marriage has polarised Tauranga ministers, with one saying it diluted a sacred ceremony while another said opponents were discriminating against gays .

"Gay people are entitled to their own relationship but we would prefer that they call it something else other than marriage," Pastor Martin Armstrong of the Matua Community Baptist Church said.

But the Reverend John Hebenton of Gate Pa's St George's Anglican Church said people did not choose to be gay: "It is important that we stand with them."

The two ministers were responding to a conservative group within the Presbyterian Church urging Parliamentarians to reject the same sex marriage bill next week. Presbyterian AFFIRM dismissed the views of other Presbyterians who supported the bill as being "isolated voices".

Pastor Armstrong said the Biblical word 'marriage' was used to define a relationship between a man and a woman, and allowing gay people to legally marry diluted a sacred Christian ceremony.

"A lot of Christians are not happy about them [gay people] using the term marriage. They believe that the whole institution of marriage was a biblical concept that is stated quite clearly in the book of Genesis.

"It's about a covenant between a male and a female and really it's a life covenant. Basically, in a lot of Christian circles there is a feeling that the concept of marriage as we know it is being devalued, defaced or changed."

Reverend Hebenton said he stood with those in the church who wanted the long-term relationships of gay and lesbian people recognised and affirmed.

"I support this bill because it encourages people to stay with one partner for life - the Biblical norm."

"It is important to recognise that people don't choose to be gay. I don't know a single gay who woke up and said 'I am going to be gay.' It is the way they are wired," he said.

Presbyterian AFFIRM spokesman Stuart Lange released a statement on Thursday opposing same sex marriage, saying the concept was "spiritually offensive to many Christian people".

The statement was issued after at least 12 Presbyterian ministers voiced support for the bill by co-signing a letter from 57 clergy of the Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist churches - rejecting Catholic opposition to the bill.

Dr Lange said most active Presbyterians wanted marriage to remain between men and women.

Families with both a mother and a father were still the best way to raise a family, Affirm said.

Steve Rainbow, chairman of gay support service Outline, said describing gay marriage as spiritually offensive was labelling homosexuality as offensive.

"That debate frankly has long been settled with homosexual law reform as long ago as 1986.

"The critical thing about the bill before Parliament is that it will not require churches to conduct same sex marriages, and in fact it will be entirely up to churches whether or not they do that.

"I thought that the church, of all groups, would have been very supportive of two loving people cementing their relationship."

Mr Rainbow said people were entitled to their views but every time someone said something like that, it had an unfortunate effect on people grappling with who they truly are.

The bill was expected to have its first reading next Wednesday and was likely to pass to a select committee.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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