Speaking this afternoon to the Select Committee into the marriage equality bill the Kainga Tonga o Aotearoa group, representing Tongan Christian churches and the organisers of the contentious anti-marriage equality rally in October, said they had approached their gay community who had given unanimous support for the churches' opposition to same sex marriage. "They said 'we know our boundaries, marriage belongs to religious culture, we support you"' a group spokesperson said.
Moments earlier the group had explained that they appeared before the committee to "stand up for our values." "We are not bible bashers or look down on gays," the group said before explaining that Tongan family structure in which there are specific "divisions of labour and roles for men and women," would be fractured if the bill passes into law.
And a group of clerics representing the Tongan sector of the Methodist Church referenced the Bible as saying that God commanded people to fill the earth with their offspring. "Gays and lesbians cannot produce children," they said, adding that because of this gay unions are "unnatural."
Their opposition to the bill is about "the survival of our culture, if the bill passes it will tell our children that the cultural values we teach them are wrong. We must protect the values of our families."
All religious groups and individuals presenting to the committee today opposed the bill, with several concerned that they would not know how to explain to their children that two men or two women married to each other was allowed. One presenter drew comparisons between gays wanting to marry and a Roman emperor who wanted to make his horse a consul, or high ranking political representative. He said that while the horse would be unaffected the role of consul would have been demeaned.
Another pointedly and repeatedly referred to heterosexual marriage as "natural" marriage as a counterpoint to same-sex marriage until he was cautioned not to by Select committee chair Ruth Dyson who explained that although she is a straight married woman she found his use of the "natural marriage" term offensive.
Several speakers questioned the stability of same-sex relationships and claimed they were much less stable than heterosexual marriages. A representative of St Steven's Anglican Church claimed marriage has "a logic and a purpose" which would be damaged if gay people can marry.
A constant refrain was the damaging effect gay marriage would have on children and the spectre of incestuous, polyamorous and other forms of marriage which the committee was at pains to point out are, and will remain, illegal. One Christian speaker managed to suggest that gays who want equal access to legal marriage are in fact purposely advocating for it in order to destroy it as a basic institution of society.
Committee member and gay Green MP Kevin Hague told GayNZ.com Daily News that the claims and beliefs being expressed at today's verbal hearings were repeats of the views expressed by the bill's opponents at the Wellington hearing and in written submissions. He also implied that the anti-bill arguments were the same as had been voiced against Civil Unions legislation and before that during the battle for human rights legislation which benefited glbti people. "They're not really saying anything new, it's the same stuff," he sighed.
The Select Committee heard almost ten hours of verbal submissions today and will reconvene tomorrow morning for the remainder of its Auckland hearings of evidence. It will then move on to Christchurch before preparing its report to Parliament.