State should stay out of churches’ business

Parliament’s sanctioning of same-sex marriage this year has prompted galloping expectations, not least where churches are involved. One has been tested in the Human Rights Review Tribunal by the Gay and Lesbian Clergy Anti-Discrimination Society on behalf of Eugene Sisneros, an events co-ordinator at St Matthew-in-the-City who claimed he was rejected for a priest training programme because he was in a gay relationship. This, it said, discriminated unfairly against his sexuality and marital status. The tribunal, however, dismissed the complaint, saying the Anglican Bishop of Auckland was merely following his Church’s doctrines.

This reaffirmation of the separation of church and state was timely. It may annoy homosexuals and, indeed, some Anglicans that any candidate for priesthood not in a heterosexual marriage must be single and celibate. But any change must come from within the Church. It must be free to determine the doctrines governing its ministers and its teachings, as people are free to accept its strictures or go to a church that more accurately reflects their beliefs.

As much is recognised under an exemption for organised religions in the Human Rights Act.

This was restated in the same-sex marriage legislation, under which ministers are not obliged to solemnise a marriage if it would contravene their Church’s religious beliefs.

Most churches recognise the need to adapt to changes in society if they are to remain relevant. Some are responding more slowly than many people would like. That, however, is no reason to circumscribe the freedom of religion in any way.


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