As I watched last night’s parliamentary debate, I started pondering what I would say if I were an MP with a chance to address the nation on this historic night. Sam Seaborn or Toby Zeigler I am not, but here’s what I came up with
Mr Speaker, as we meet tonight in this chamber, hundreds of thousands of people around the nation are watching and anticipating not just our decision, but our discussion. And so I’d like to address my comments to some of those who are watching tonight. Specifically, I’d like to directly address the members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities for whom tonight is so important. Indirectly, I’m also addressing the countless New Zealanders who share your hope that this bill will pass.
I must begin by saying that I oppose this bill, even though the horse has bolted and, clearly, this bill will pass. Why? Why oppose a bill that many have claimed is all about human rights, freedom and equality? Am I scared? Am I a homophobe, or a bigot? Am I just a bluff old traditionalist? Let me explain where I stand.
I oppose this bill because I am a Bible-believing Christian, which I know makes me a strange breed in 21st century public life. I believe that the Bible is the very word of God – the words spoken by our creator, God, to us, his creatures. At many points, the Bible’s message delights and comforts us. But it should be no surprise that at some points, it challenges and confronts us. And together with Christians down through the centuries and around the world today, I believe the clear, unambiguous message of the Bible is that marriage has been designed by God to be between one man and one woman. I believe this parliament doesn’t get to define what marriage is. God does. And he has designed marriage to be based around the wonderful complementarity between the sexes, where a man and a woman come together in a lifelong sexual union and start a new family, based (at least in part) on their complementarity and their differences.
While it puts me out of step with many of my colleagues and much of my society, I am not at liberty to change or to sideline what God has spoken about marriage.
I believe that civil unions are an appropriate and helpful structure to allow the preservation of traditional marriage, which is foundational to our society, while still allowing those of you who wish to live in legally recognised same-sex partnerships to express those partnerships publicly and to enjoy important legal rights and protections with one another.
I know that I can’t persuade you to share this position tonight. That’s not my aim. But I believe it’s important to clearly and honestly tell you why I hold the position that I do. Indeed, I hope you will recognise that this very short summary doesn’t do justice to the depth of thinking behind my views. Deep discussions like this one aren’t suited to five minute speeches, let alone to our sound-bite, YouTube-driven society. But just as you hold your views for deep, carefully considered reasons, so do I and so do Christians like me.
Moreover, I hope you will hear and respect my views, even if you don’t agree with them. For that is true tolerance. What we have here is a profound clash of worldviews, but that doesn’t mean we should quickly dismiss the views of others, no matter how strange they may sound to our ears. That’s true for people on both sides of this discussion.
That will be the part of my speech that saddens, angers or maybe just confuses you. So I hope you will still hear me loud and clear as I continue. Because what I want to say next is this: though I cannot support this bill, that does not change the fact that I love and respect you and want the best for you – your community as a whole, and you as an individual. Opposition to ‘same-sex marriage’ does not equal hatred of homosexual people. It means there are real, profound differences between us, but those differences need not divide us or set us at enmity with one another.
I recognise that sometimes Bible-believing Christians have done a very poor job of conveying our respect, care and love for our homosexual friends. I admit that, even worse, some Bible-believing Christians (or at least those claiming that name) have in fact failed to love, care for and respect you as they should. Equally, I believe that at times, our conscientious objection to ‘same-sex marriage’ has been (sometimes wilfully) misinterpreted as a lack of love, care and respect.
But dear friend, please hear me loud and clear. While I oppose this bill, I do not oppose you. You are welcome in my church. Although it sounds patronising to say it, let me affirm that you are welcome in my community and my society, and you have so much to offer us. And though I believe God’s intention for you is not that you live in a sexually active same-sex relationship, you are created in his image every bit as much as I am, or as any person is. You are loved by him, valued by him, treasured by him. Your sexuality does not change that.
This is a vitally important discussion – not least because as we’ve heard here tonight, issues of equality, freedom, and human rights are perceived to be at stake. But let me mention again one other vital value that is at stake tonight: tolerance. Our society is deeply confused on this very important topic. Today, in most circles, tolerance has come to mean the removal of all differences – a refusal to disagree with someone else’s worldview, or to disagree with their spiritual beliefs, or to disagree with their actions. But if we give it a moment’s thought, true tolerance means something quite different. To tolerate one another, we must first acknowledge that we disagree. What does it mean to say, “I agree with you completely, and I tolerate you”? Our redefinition of tolerance has left us deeply confused. Even worse, we have sometimes promoted the deadly idea that says, “All views are acceptable – apart from the view that says something is unacceptable.” Loving your neighbour as yourself does not mean always agreeing with your neighbour.
The result of tonight’s vote is all but guaranteed. We all know that. But what is not guaranteed is where we go from here, and how we handle our disagreements and our competing worldviews. My hope and prayer tonight is that we commit ourselves to true tolerance – not merely papering over our differences or pretending they don’t exist, but talking about our differences, and deepening our respect and care for each other in the process. That we commit ourselves to listening to each other – deeply, genuinely, patiently. That we take the time to understand the worldview of others, even when we cannot quickly relate to it. I pray that our society will renew its commitment to the ideal that says, “I may disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” I pray that people who stand opposed to tonight’s decision will not be marginalised as homophobic, bigoted, intolerant, backward rednecks. And I pray that people who stand opposed to tonight’s decision will give no one any real reason whatsoever to believe that they are, in fact, homophobic, bigoted, intolerant, backward rednecks.
This debate has been important for many reasons – not least because it has brought out strong, emotional reactions on both sides. One of the measures of a society is the manner in which these discussions take place, and the respect and kindness with which people on all sides treat each other. Tonight, I commit myself to treating you and your communities with love and respect, even as I oppose this bill.