By Mark O’Brien
Impunity Watch Reporter, Oceania
WELLINGTON, New Zealand — Actor and gay rights advocate Sir Ian McKellen says he would like to get married in New Zealand.
In a video message to a marriage equality conference in Wellington, the “Hobbit” star said he supported the Marriage Amendment Bill, which has passed its first reading in Parliament and now is being considered by a select committee.
“I hope that by the time I get back to Middle Earth, I might even be able to get married,” he said.
McKellen, who has spent a considerable amount of time in New Zealand playing the role of Gandalf in “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings, said the world has looked to the country for “social advancement” ever since it became the first country to give women the right to vote.
“It will be a popular move, I know, and I’m glad your major political parties have embraced it.,” he added.
The endorsement came after considerable debate in New Zealand over the autonomy churches would have if the law were passed.
The bill contains a provision that churches are authorized but not required to marry gay, lesbian, or transgender couples who wanted to be married. The bill’s sponsor, Labour MP Louisa Wall, has repeatedly said she wanted churches to maintain their freedom of religion and expression. The Human Rights Commission also has endorsed this provision.
But some opponents and legal experts said that a law change would make it unlawful for churches to turn people away.
“If this goes forward, then churches will be required to open their premises to gay marriages,” Baptist minister Scott Lelievre told The New Zealand Herald.
“I guess if we have to go to jail, then we have to [go to] jail,” he added. “There’s a long and honorable history of Christians going to jail, so we would not be the first.”
Family First NZ and 24 members of the Victoria University law faculty also called into question the interpretation of the law by the HRC and MP Wall. Family First NZ’s national director, Bob McCoskrie, said the HRC specifically should not be depended on for independent legal analysis because it has lobbied for this bill since the very beginning.
“Based on the interpretation of [the church exception provision] by the HRC and Louisa Wall, a marriage celebrant could lawfully decline to marry a particular couple because they are of different races or because the marriage celebrant disliked persons of a certain race,” McCoskrie said. “Of course, that is completely unlawful and would quite rightly breach . . . the NZ Bill of Rights Act.”
Family First NZ also said it obtained legal opinions from Barrister Ian Bassett that indicated the law, if passed, would not allow churches to lawfully decline to marry gay couples because the provision itself does not authorize discrimination based on sexual orientation.
For further information, please see:
Radio New Zealand — Actor Eyes Same-Sex Marriage in Middle Earth — 1 December 2012
The New Zealand Herald — Gay Choice for Churches — 23 November 2012
Stuff.co.nz — Gay Marriage ‘Not Forced on Churches’ — 23 November 2012
Voxy.co.nz — Legal Experts Dispute Human Rights Commission on Gay Marriage — 22 November 2012