Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Civil unions in churches

Opponents of the Civil Unions Bill are getting outraged at the prospect that same-sex civil unions may be held in churches. A couple of liberal Wellington ministers have announced their intention to become civil union celebrants and make their churches available. Judith Collins and Peter Dunne think that this is proof that CU's are "gay marriage under another name" - which is a colossal non sequitur that shows the depth of their ignorance about the Marriage Act.

What makes a marriage a marriage in New Zealand? Dunne and Collins would have you think that its something to do with being married in a church, but that's not what the law says. What makes a marriage a marriage is that both parties say something like "I AB take you CD to be my lawfully wedded husband" in front of a government-recognised celebrant, and then sign a bit of paper. Venue is irrelevant - you can hold your wedding underwater, in a hot-air balloon, in an abbatoir if you so desire. All that matters is that you say those words and sign that bit of paper in front of an official of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

The Civil Unions Bill is the same, except that instead of "lawfully wedded husband", you say "partner in our civil union", and the bit of paper will have some different words at the top. And that's it, as far as proceedings are concerned.

Some couples may well choose to celebrate their civil unions in a church, in front of a minister - and why shouldn't they? It's a private arrangement between the couple, celebrant and venue, and no concern of the government. And it certainly says nothing about whether its a "marriage", gay or otherwise - to think that it does is to conflate the ceremonial trappings with the thing itself.

(I happen to think that civil unions are "gay marriage under another name" - but that doesn't excuse Dunne's or Collins' shoddy reasoning in any way)