It looks like marriage will be one of the big political issues in this year’s federal election. After many recent defeats all over the world, and with all sides of government under continued pressure from gay and lesbian lobbyists, many Australian Christians fear that the definition of marriage will soon be changed here too. In New Zealand, same sex marriage has been legal since 2013. Neil Johnson spoke to Bob McCoskrie, founder and national director of Family First NZ, about the results of that decision. They also discussed the growing intolerance toward traditional marriage advocacy, his charity’s recent court battle, and a controversial new report on gender identity.
While the law has changed around same sex marriage, all the states are now working really hard to make sure there’s religious protection and freedom of conscience in place.
Mr McCoskrie said that, despite a lot of noise on the subject, there has been very little demand for same sex marriage since it was legalised in New Zealand. “In fact, if it wasn’t for all the Australians coming across and having same sex weddings, I think the demand would be half the size.”
In the wake of the change, many marriage celebrants, including McCoskrie himself, resigned, in fear of being forced to conduct marriages they didn’t believe in. He said that, while mainline churches seem to be protected, there is still fear that some smaller churches will not be. He said that the process occurring now in New Zealand prefigures the one which is beginning in the US, following the supreme court decision that made same sex marriage legal throughout the country.
“While the law has changed around same sex marriage,” he said, “all the states are now working really hard to make sure there’s religious protection and freedom of conscience in place. New Zealand really hasn’t been tested on that, but I heard a commentator just this morning, on a mainstream station, saying he thinks it’s just a matter of time before it is.”
In Australia, Family First is a political party, in New Zealand it aims to hold politicians accountable. Mr McCoskrie described it as a charity and family advocacy group, much like the Australian Christian Lobby, or the Australian Family Association. As such, it has been caught up in an on-going debate around whether charities should be allowed involvement in politics. Following the legalisation, the charities commission sought to revoke Family First’s charity status.
“We believed in the natural family, and we believed in marriage being one man, one woman. And therefore, our views were controversial in contemporary New Zealand society, and we weren’t of any public benefit. And I’m quoting phrases directly from their decision.”
In July 2015, the high court overturned Family First’s deregistration, which means that the charities commission must re-examine their case. In their judgement, the court criticised the board for allowing personal bias to overrule benefit to the public. “They needed to take into account that they may disagree with family first, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be a charity.”
McCoskrie remembers another example of a new level of intolerance for discussion which has followed the change in marriage laws. In New Zealand’s youth parliament, just after the new legislation was passed, a student representing the Maori party spoke out against same sex marriage, saying that the government had gone mad. As she spoke, more than half of her fellow youth MPs walked out.
There is no doubt, McCoskrie said, that traditional marriage advocates are under a lot of pressure. As encouragement, he reminded us of the pro-life movement, which, in 1973, suffered a defeat in the case of Roe v. Wade, where the US supreme court declared abortion unconstitutional. “But forty years down the track, they’re starting to see some real traction and real gains in the pro-life movement.”
“That’s my message to the marriage movement, that yes, there may be a setback now, but we need to hang in there for the sake of future generations. And we need to be ready for the long hall on this one.”
Mr McCoskrie said that churches need to keep working on fine-tuning the Christian message, on speaking the truth with love and grace. “I think there’s two extremes. You can present a gospel that’s all about love and nothing else, and you can also present a gospel that’s just all harsh truth and judgement. And I think both of those extremes are not the way it should be done. It’s actually the balance of the two. It’s speaking the truth, but also understanding that we’re all sinners, all saved by grace, we all need God.”
The biological sex is an objective biological reality. Gender is very subjective, and kids are being confused.
Meanwhile, Christian commentators have a new challenge at hand, as New Zealand schools encourage students to identify themselves by which ever gender they choose, be it male, female, neither, or both. “It sounds crazy just saying it, but that’s exactly the message that they’re receiving. It’s driven by a political ideology. It’s not driven by any scientific discovery. The biological sex is an objective biological reality. Gender is very subjective, and kids are being confused.”
Binary is the only gender story there is among humanity when it comes to gender and sex distinction.
Family First recently commissioned a report on gender identity, which aimed to address some of the psychological and practical issues this new approach may cause. The report, written by Focus on the Family’s Glenn Stanton, says that gender is not a social or cultural construct, and that gender and sex are inseparable. “Binary is the only gender story there is among humanity when it comes to gender and sex distinction.”
The report has frequently been called hate speech, but McCoskrie suggests that its detractors likely haven’t read it. “I think anybody who reads the report in its fullness will see that it’s actually a very gracious document, that looks at some of the messages that are being pushed, questions them, says should our youth be exposed to some of these messages at school, and at such a young age. It’s certainly ground-breaking, but it’s certainly causing a bit of a stir over here.”
He pointed out that the report referred to world renowned experts, clinicians and research in support of its argument. “This is part of the problem with debating in New Zealand,” McCoskrie said, “that if people don’t like what you’re saying, or disagree with you, they then simply attack the messenger.”
Mr McCoskrie is disappointed by the mainstream press’s failure to report facts, in favour of easy stories. “The media romanticise some of these stories, but my charge to the media is that they’re not critically analysing them. They’re not asking, is this in the child’s best interests? Are there other presenting issues which cause young children to think that they’re of a different gender, or they’re dissatisfied with their body? It’s that lack of analytical review, but we’re seeing that all the time.”
Family First, however, are working hard to advocate for caution, and remind New Zealanders of the values of biblical wisdom and tradition. They continue to campaign tirelessly, not just about marriage or gender identity, but also around marijuana, IVF treatment, abortion and many other modern social issues. McCoskrie said that they are frequently asked for comment.
He encourages us to follow his lead. “To be honest when I talk to my Aussie allies, we’re all covering the same issues, aren’t we. And we’re all dealing with a similar approach from media. We’re all dealing with the name-calling, but we’ve just got to hang tough, because our message is more important than worrying about a few names.”
To see some of the resources which Family First use in their campaign for traditional marriage, visit protectmarriage.org.nz.