Simon Collins is the Herald’s education reporter.

Two sets of parents - poles apart

MPs studying gay marriage bill urged to accept diversity but also told of 'evil' of gay conduct.

Tim Bennett and mother Sue each made a submission in support of the gay marriage bill at a hearing in Auckland yesterday. Photo / Richard Robinson
Tim Bennett and mother Sue each made a submission in support of the gay marriage bill at a hearing in Auckland yesterday. Photo / Richard Robinson

One couple walked with their gay son on a gay rights march. Another couple with a daughter in a lesbian relationship love her dearly, but believe what she is doing is evil.

Both couples travelled to Auckland yesterday to make emotional submissions for and against Manurewa MP Louisa Wall's bill to define marriage as the union of any two people regardless of gender.

Many submitters on both sides of the debate sobbed as they struggled to tell MPs personal stories of the hurt of exclusion on one side, and of strong beliefs under threat on the other.

The first couple's gay son, Tim Bennett, a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher at Campus Creche at Waikato University, said he was bullied at Hamilton's Fraser High School because he seemed more feminine than other boys - but the bullying stopped when he "came out" in his last year at school.

"I was really scared of coming out because I could see from TV how people might react, but I actually found when I came out that the bullying stopped and I was accepted for who I was," he said.

His parents, Sue and Wayne Bennett of Ngaruawahia, both 55, have been very supportive, even going to Wellington to walk with him in a gay rights march two years ago.

"They have been to every LegaliseLove event they could, they have written to every member of Parliament and stood in front of crowds and preached their support of me," Tim Bennett said.

Wayne Bennett could not travel to Auckland yesterday, but Mrs Bennett told MPs that accepting diversity was a sign of a socially mature society.

She said she and her husband suspected Tim might be gay from an early age because he was "just different from his brother". His older brother and sister are both married.

"It was a celebration when Tim came out because we could all actually be honest with each other. We could support him and share stories with him and just enjoy being part of his world."

But David and Penelope Foote, of Whangarei, said they still believed homosexual conduct was evil even after they found out three years ago that their daughter, now 33, was in a lesbian relationship.

"There is something bigger than family. God is bigger than family," said Mr Foote, 62. "God has [judged] and will judge nations and societies given over to homosexual practice."

Mrs Foote, 56, said the couple still loved their daughter and the discovery that she was in a same-sex relationship was "the most traumatic thing we have ever been through".

"It's the result of abuse she has suffered [with men]," she said.

"I believe homosexuality is wrong. Human life is sacred and a significant part of marriage is the procreation of life. This is what makes marriage sacred."

Mr Foote said legalising gay marriage would encourage more people into gay lifestyles.

"Homosexuality can and does change its rate of occurrence within a population," he said.

"It flourished in ancient Greece, where this human rights ideology originated. It flourished also in Sodom and Gomorrah."

Things not always as they seem

Boys and girls are not quite the distinct categories that we generally perceive, MPs have been told.

Auckland university student Jessica Jones told the committee on Louisa Wall's gay marriage bill that about 1.7 per cent of people are born with ambiguous physical and genetic features such as a mixture of male and female organs or unusual chromosome combinations such as XXYY or XXY instead of the usual XX (female) and XY (male).

"Men and women are not two opposite magnetic poles, always distinct and yet only attracted to each other. Rather, the lines are blurred, or perhaps completely nonexistent, and all possible forms of attraction exist."

Otago University paediatrician Dr Esko Wiltshire confirmed that 0.02 per cent to 2 per cent of babies had disorders of sex development (DSDs).

"The best real estimate is around one in 4500 live births per year for infants with ambiguous genitalia, that is external genitalia that are not clearly either male or female or where there is a discrepancy between chromosomes and appearance."

He said it was common to operate on babies with DSDs to make them clearly either male or female, but current practice was not to operate without agreement from a multidisciplinary group including the parents.

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