BTW: It’s about respect, not recruitment
Last weekend we missed a wedding. Only distance and other commitments prevented our attendance – we were in Jakarta, they were in Wellington.
We hear it was a happy and loving event celebrated at St Andrews’s on The Terrace. This is a fine old Presbyterian church in the New Zealand capital, a city whose physical and spiritual foundations were largely set by Scottish immigrants who arrived around 1840, stout people of faith with a vision of equality.
The wedding was conducted before friends, relatives and well-wishers, and then followed by a party. There were all the usual trappings, flowers, cakes, drinks.
The happy couple aren’t just active fellow parishioners – they are also our hillside neighbors where most residents are professional couples or retired.
The newly betrothed live just down the road in a modest house where they tend the garden and take their small dog for regular walks. They’re friendly low-profile business folk. When we’re in Indonesia they keep an eye on our house.
So what? Marriages happen most weekends and suburban life is hardly worth Page One of a national newspaper. Except in Indonesia; that’s because the couple is gay.
Their union was legal – NZ passed same-sex marriage laws in 2013 by 77 to 44 votes in a Parliament dominated by centre-right conservatives.
NZ wasn’t number one in the world to legalise LGBT weddings – that was the Netherlands - but it was the first in the Asia-Pacific region. It’s still the only one.
Louisa Wall, the politician responsible for introducing the proposal told her political colleagues: “Excluding a group in society from marriage is oppressive and unacceptable.
"This is not about church teachings or philosophy; it never was. The principles of justice and equality aren't served if the key institution of marriage is reserved for heterosexuals only."
Before the debate politicians had been subjected to intense pressure from the Catholic Church, self-appointed groups claiming to represent ‘the family’ and the so-called Christian lobby, mainly Protestant evangelicals. Muslims, who form less than one per cent of the population, also joined the moral police.
‘Prayer Rallies’ were held outside the legislature and threats made to start a new political party. That didn’t eventuate.
Some Christian protestors seemed to have forgotten a couple of precepts attributed to Jesus – ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ and the absolutely unqualified ‘love thy neighbor as thyself’.
As in the Republic today there were forecasts of Old Testament hell and damnation if LGBTs got their way. It’s true - there have been earthquakes. NZ, like the Archipelago, is on the unstable Ring of Fire, but the earth was trembling when Aotearoa, as it’s known to Maori, was still an empty land.
Predictions that traditional marriage would drown under a tsunami of godless LGBTs seeking holy matrimony have also proved groundless. In the first year after the law was passed 520 female couples and 406 male couples tied the knot.
More than a quarter came from Australia where fundamentalists still get frothy-mouthed at the idea and politicians tremble.
In 2014 more than 20,000 male-female marriages were registered. So the ratio is around five per cent, though the number of LGBT unions has since dropped.
The former minister at St Andrew’s, now with preaching in Sydney, is a prominent theologian and champion of human rights including marriage equality,
She is also a lesbian. Perhaps her appointment in 2001 turned some away from the church. But their places in the pews were quietly taken by LGBT folk rejected by other churches. Their presence has enriched the congregation and broadened its outlook, but it hasn’t made anyone change their natural preferences.
At no time have we heard: 'Hey you, let's be lesbian and gay.’ the fear voiced by Vice President Jusuf Kalla. No-one has promoted LGBT lifestyles or sought to recruit. Recognition of difference is about respect, not recruitment.
St Andrew’s is Progressive Christian, a philosophy foreign to Indonesia. Other faiths have addressed parishioners. Indonesian Muslims have played the gamelan before the altar.
But we’re careful telling this tale in Indonesia lest we cause offence. That’s already happened and we’ve lost friends. Not Indonesians, but ‘Christian’ visitors from NZ. Duncan Graham
First published in The Jakarta Post 6 March 2016