Nearly 1,000 same-sex couples have married since it became legal, but most churches are still reluctant to take part in the celebrations.
This month marks one year since same-sex marriage was legalised in New Zealand. In that time nearly 1000 homosexual couples have tied the knot, including people coming from overseas specifically to take advantage of the redefined law. Prior to the popular legislation being implemented conservative Christian lobby groups called it a “cultural vandalism” that would cause the crumbling of the country’s moral fabric. Unmoved by the fact that a year’s gone by and society remains intact, the same groups remain highly critical of people with similar genitals getting hitched.
Many of the country’s churches have found themselves caught in the crossfire. The top 10 denominations had vowed not to hold same-sex ceremonies in the time around the law change, but with a cultural sea-change on the horizon many are beginning to soften their resolve. To mark the anniversary of the law change VICE caught up with minister Glynn Cardy, who is probably best known for the controversial billboards outside his Anglican church St Matthew-In-The-City, one of which featured a gay baby Jesus, resulting in death threats and hate mail. An outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage, Cardy was poised to hold the first same-sex marriage in New Zealand when church leaders ordered him to call it off. He has since moved to Presbyterian church St Lukes in Remuera where he is allowed to marry same-gender couples.
VICE: Are the Anglican rules on same-sex marriage the reason you switched denominations?
Glynn: No, no. It was just simply that this community was looking for a minister and I was looking for a change. It was a good fit. But currently in the Presbyterian church, even though Presbyterian is more conservative generally than Anglican in New Zealand, I can take same-gender weddings right now.
And have you?
No. I haven’t been asked. But things may change in October, when the main assembly of the Presbyterian church meets again. Allowing minister’s to marry same-gender couples just narrowly survived last time, and I’m not sure whether it will survive again.
Why is that?
Well, the ultra-conservatives wanted to make sure that no Presbyterian church has same-gender weddings, but what they were up against was the strong sense of autonomy among the parishes. It wasn’t so much the issue of gay or not gay, it was about autonomy, and over 41 percent felt like this was violating their autonomy. And the motion to prohibit same-gender marriage needs over 60 percent to be enacted.
When you say ultra-conservatives, who are they?
The Presbyterian church has a very flat structure. They have a moderator who is appointed for two years, and he or she doesn’t have any real power, the real power lies with individual parishes. So it is particular clergy within individual parishes who lead the pack on some of these issues.
Does your new congregation have many homosexual members?
Not like at St Matthews. There probably about a third of my congregation was gay or lesbian. Here there is probably a few couples and a few individuals.
Is that was drove you to put up the controversial billboards at St Matthews?
There were billboards before I arrived, but they weren’t quite as edgy. We said to our advertising agency, “come up with something that wouldn’t be put up in front of any other church.” We had the gay baby Jesus, which I thought wouldn’t make that much of a splash at all. It had Jesus in a manger scene, and he had a gay rainbow above his head. Our press release read, “Would it matter to you if Jesus way gay?” And the inference for us was no it wouldn’t, but for conservatives it was like, “oh yeah, you would be a sinner, it would be terrible and I wouldn’t want anything to do with it.”
For all the controversy the billboards stirred, the death threats etc, was it worth it?
I think so in all sorts of ways. I mean they were the first viral religious thing ever to go out from New Zealand. And they made people think about Christmas in a different way.
You’ve long been an outspoken supporter of same-sex marriage, why?
Well the church has not only blatantly discriminated, but promoted discrimination for centuries and it is very clear from science that it is discrimination. The science has been in for a long time now. And yes you get some screwballs trying to say it’s not natural or whatever, but that’s been laid to bed. It’s like evolution, it is the truth. So it’s like, “come on church, wake up. Are you going to continue to discriminate because you don’t like something?” You are just dinosaurs if you do that. That’s where the church is, they are just a bunch of dinosaurs. So you’ve got to, whether you feel passionately or not, say this is wrong.
Do you think same sex couples even want to be married in churches?
I think churches have turned most gay people off formal religion. There have been some getting married in churches. I mean, churches are beautiful venues, and people say just by their architecture there is something sacred happening there. So it’s not just a contractual arrangement like you might make over the sale of a car—this is a life commitment to one another. And a lot of couples, when they come to that point their lives, they want it to feel it’s sacred. The church has traditionally provided some apparatus around that—to acknowledge that commitment and say, “I love you and I want to grow old with you, and be saggy and bald with you.” Churches can offer a safe place to say that, but a lot of churches don’t. They say, “we know what’s right and pure, and you are not right and pure.” And that’s sad. More than sad, for me it’s bloody annoying.
How would you like to see things change in terms of the church and gay marriage?
I’d like everyone gay straight, bi, transgender, intersex, to feel that churches are places where their spiritual life will be honoured and accepted and encouraged. I’ve often said the big change will come when the grandmas change. A lot of the grandmas, they might know someone, or maybe one of their own offspring is gay, and that’s the point where this little old lady who has been a loyal churchgoer for many years has to decide whether he believes all they anti-gay vitriol the minister has been telling her for years from the pulpit, or does she realise the love for her grandson transcends that. And at that point when she goes where her heart is, with her grandson, that‘s when the foundations of the church start to rattle, because when you get those mass of grandmas eventually you are going to change the foundations of the church.
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