Religious ministers’ choice who they marry

Current media debate about Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill touches on the relationship between freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination. The Human Rights Act 1993 (HRA) would not prevent religious ministers from refusing to marry same-sex couples.

“Religious ministers have the right to refuse to marry anyone. That right will not change if the Bill becomes law,” said Chief Commissioner David Rutherford. “It will be up to any individual marriage celebrant, including those who are religious ministers, to decide whether or not they wish to marry a same-sex couple.”

This right already exists in section 29 of the Marriage Act which states that a marriage licence “shall authorise but not oblige” any marriage celebrant to solemnise that marriage.

This position also reflects international human rights law. As a religious marriage is a core part of practising a religion, religious officials and leaders are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.

Everyone is entitled to have and express their own personal beliefs, including religious beliefs. It is unlawful to discriminate against someone in any area of public life that is covered by the HRA, because of their sexual orientation or religious belief, unless there is an explicit exception in the HRA.

“Religious ceremonies, services and private religious spaces are not an area of public life covered by the HRA. This means a Minister or religious organisation can choose who is able to be married in their ceremonial or consecrated spaces such as a church or temple,” said Mr Rutherford.

“Same-sex couples have the same right as other New Zealand couples to freedom from discrimination in public spaces.” When religious organisations provide goods or services or accommodation to the public they are held to the same non-discrimination standards as others. “If a church rents out its hall to members of the public it would be unlawful to refuse to rent the hall to a same-sex couple because of their sexual orientation”.

Further information.

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