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    Gays lose out again - 6-Oct-2006
    It's been 13 years since the passing of the Human Rights Act yet New Zealanders are still having issues on equality.

    Last Friday the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand again voted to ban gays or people in defacto relationships from being church leaders. It was the culmination of months of lobbying by both sides of the issue and in the end a two-thirds majority retained the Church's rules on the matter.

    It was a campaign that proved churchgoers can play dirty tricks just as well as those in politics. An anonymous slur campaign was carried out promoting the anti-gay message. It all got very nasty with bumper stickers suggesting gays were a cancer in the Church.

    This inflamed an issue which has refused to go away for the Presbyterians. For more than two decades it has turned up regularly on the agenda of the Church's biennial general assemblies. In 1985, 1991 and 1999 assemblies passed or endorsed remits that stopped openly homosexual people from being ordained or licensed to preach or become church elders. Those resolutions have all followed the traditional biblical view that sexual relations should occur only within a marriage between a man and woman.

    Despite the strong anti-gay group in the Church the Presbyterians licensed their first gay minister in 1995. It now has seven who are openly gay and a number of church elders who are also gay.

    But the conservative section of the Church has regrouped in recent years and two years ago got the numbers to force a ban on any new gay appointments. It was this that was reaffirmed on Friday.

    Under the Human Rights Act, discrimination against homosexuals is illegal. But if a Church wants to exclude gays from becoming ministers or church elders it can do so on the grounds of religious belief.

    However, the pro-gay lobby says the Church should be more inclusive, a place of welcome with love for all people. Before Friday's vote that group indicated that if they lost it again they would give up completely on the Church and spark a mass walkout.

    It is surprising that that hasn't yet happened. Both sides have had long enough to come to a compromise. It now seems that they are so philosophically opposed that there can be little chance of that.

    The Presbyterians make up the third largest religious group in the country behind the Anglicans and Catholics. About 430,000 people still profess to be Presbyterian and if the ratio of anti-gay feeling in the Church is the same as that in the assembly when gay leadership was voted out, then that represents about 300,000 New Zealanders who reject equal rights for gays.

    That split, plus increased conservatism in other denominations, is an indication that there is still considerable anti-gay feeling throughout the community despite the laws passed more than a decade-and-a-half ago to counter it.

    Gays and lesbians might have their legal rights enshrined in legislation but it is clear that they face a community that still hasn't come to terms with the morality of it all.
    Ref: - Waikato Times

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