Conscience clause in same gender marriage Bill lacks clarity

Numerous assurances have been given that marriage celebrants who object, on the ground of religious belief or conscience, to conducting same gender marriage ceremonies will be protected in law.

But Professor Rex Ahdar, from the Law Faculty of Otago University, says a flaw still remains in the most recent version of the Bill, despite the Select Committee’s hope that the conscience clause that has been inserted would provide the necessary clarity that the Ministry of Justice and Crown Law advisers sought.

The Definition of Marriage (Amendment) Bill passed the second reading stage in New Zealand’s parliament on Thursday 14 March. In this version of the Bill:

Section 29 amended (Licence authorizes but not obliges marriage celebrant to solemnize marriage)

In section 29, insert as subsection (2):

“Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), no celebrant who is a minister of religion recognised by a religious body enumerated in Schedule 1, and no celebrant who is a person nominated to solemnize marriages by an approved organisation, is obliged to solemnize a marriage if solemnizing that marriage would contravene the religious beliefs of the religious body or the religious beliefs or philosophical or humanitarian convictions of the approved organisation.”

However Ahdar said the exemption is not worded widely enough.

“First, marriage celebrants who are independent and not members of any religious body or any approved organization are probably not protected.  Second, and perhaps even more importantly, ministers of religion of existing religious bodies may not be protected either. How so? A religious minister whose denomination is divided on the issue of gay marriage may not be able to point to any authoritative ruling, precept, custom or teaching of his or her denomination that clearly states that only heterosexual marriage is right and acceptable.”


Additional reading

News category: New Zealand, Top Story.

Tags: , , , ,