Family First stripped of charity status

Newstalk ZB report:

Family First no longer a charity

Disappointment from the Family First group, following news it’s about to have its charitable status taken away.

Family First says the commission is listing the group’s view of one-man, one-woman marriage as a reason for de-registering it.

The group’s national director Bob McCoskrie says it seems almost illegal to hold a viewpoint.

“Whichever side of the fence you’re on in any debate should be concerned that Charities Commission deems it to be uncharitable to speak up for a public interest issue.”

Family First doesn’t say what other reasons have been given, but they seem to have become more of a political campaign organisation than a charity. From their web page:

They also say:

Registered Charity
Our Charity Registration number is: CC10094. For further details, please click here for link to Charities Commission website.

That link doesn’t work, I don’t know if that’s due to the de-registering (it is reported to take effect from 27th May) or if it was a bad link.

The Charities Commission on Charitable purpose:

Charitable purpose has a special meaning in law. We use examples to illustrate the treatment of charitable purpose under the Charities Act.

Section 5(1) of the Charities Act 2005 says that “charitable purpose” “…includes every charitable purpose, whether it relates to the relief of poverty, the advancement of education or religion, or any other matter beneficial to the community.” The law surrounding charitable purposes is 400 years old. It has been developed over time mainly by judges’ decisions in court cases.

“Charitable purpose” has a special meaning in law. It may include some purposes the public would not consider to be charitable and it may exclude other purposes the public would consider to be charitable. We will compare the purposes and activities set out in your rules or governing document and the activities listed in your application form against the meaning of “charitable purpose” in section 5(1) of the Charities Act.

How will we know whether our organisation has a “charitable purpose”?

We assess each application we receive on a case-by-case basis, with reference to decisions made in earlier court cases, to decide whether the organisation applying has a “charitable purpose”.

In order for a purpose to be charitable, it must —

  • fall within one of the four charitable purposes set out in section 5(1) of the Charities Act and
  • provide a public benefit and
  • not be aimed at creating private financial profit.

In some cases, a specific Act of Parliament will state that the purposes of a particular organisation are charitable. See more in depth examples

Family First – ‘About Us’ :

“New Zealanders need a voice that can research and advocate for strong families and safe communities, which is why we started Family First.”

Family First will:

  • be a voice for the family in the media speaking up about issues relating to families that are in the public domain
  • promote and advance research and policy supporting marriage and family as foundational to a strong and enduring society
  • participate in social analysis and debate surrounding issues relating to and affecting the family being promoted by academics, policy makers, social service organisations and media, and to network with other like-minded groups and academics
  • produce and publish relevant and stimulating material in newspapers, magazines, and other media relating to issues affecting families
  • speak from a family friendly perspective with an emphasis on the Judeo-Christian values which have benefited New Zealand for generations.


Addressing Marriage Equality Bill concerns

Concerns are continually being raised about the Marriage Equality Bill, mostly by Family First and some religious interests.

As soon as one concern is addressed another is found. These are now obscure possibilities, and it seems to be extremely improbable they would arise. Green MP Kevin Hagie addresses the latest issues, repeated here in full:

The Marriage Equality Bill and religion

Published: March 11, 2013

by Kevin Hague

One of the themes winding its way through the debate over marriage equality is the relationship between the church and the state. New Zealand has no official religion and great effort has been expended to keep the church out of law-making and the State out of religious matters.

So marriage presents an interesting set of issues, because it is both a religious institution (a sacrament in some denominations) and also a civil one. Two possible approaches to reconciling differences are to remove the church or the state entirely from marriage, but in New Zealand we have taken the view that both have legitimate roles.

While we speak of “the church”, that in fact conceals a considerable complexity. There is a multitude of faiths, denominations within faiths, and congregations within denominations.

During the course of the debate over marriage equality it has become abundantly clear that opinions and practices concerning marriage vary very considerably.

While the loudest church voice in the marriage equality debate has been from those Christian churches who wish not to marry same-sex couples, the select committee has also heard from many churches who wish to be able to marry same-sex couples and who are prevented from doing so by the current law.

When the Bill was introduced, its proponent, Louisa Wall, was absolutely clear that her intent was not to limit freedom of religious expression, and that has been the Select Committee’s driver also.

Some submitters, largely influenced by the lobby group Family First, which spread propaganda through conservative churches, believed religious freedom would be impacted in three ways. I respond to these concerns in this post:

1. Churches will not be forced to marry same-sex couples against their will

Section 29 of the Marriage Act authorises celebrants to marry couples, but explicitly does not oblige them to do so. One can easily imagine that there are many grounds upon which a particular church or a particular celebrant might object to marrying a particular couple, and since 1955 this provision has enabled them to decline to do so.

In all of this time I am not aware of any decision to decline being challenged through the Courts, and it’s easy to see why: couples who wish to marry are looking for a positive experience, not one carried out grudgingly, against the celebrant’s will.

Adding to the categories of couples who can marry does not alter, in any way, the law around celebrants declining to marry.

However, Family First found a barrister who thought there was a chance Courts would find that declining to marry a couple on the grounds of sexual orientation would be a breach of the Human Rights Act in relation to the provision of goods and services.

While the Human Rights Commission – who would be the body to investigate any complaint of discrimination – has been crystal clear that it would not uphold a complaint of discrimination against a celebrant who declined to solemnise a couple, and the majority of legal opinion supports the HRC position, some reputable legal sources have also said that it’s not possible to say that no court would interpret the existing law in the way that Family First (and many religious folk) fear.

Most of the submissions against Louisa’s Bill expressed the fear that churches would be forced to marry same-sex couples even if it offends their genuine religious belief.

While the real risk of this was assessed as being very small indeed, it was clearly nobody’s intention (sorry, not quite nobody – there was one submission arguing churches should be compelled to marry any couples who wished to marry and were legally entitled to do so) that the state should compel churches to act against their beliefs.

For that reason the select committee added a clause to put beyond all doubt that any celebrant acting on behalf of or appointed by a church can refuse to marry any couple.

The churches who were concerned and who have examined the revised Bill appear to now accept that there is no risk that they will be required to do anything differently. Unfortunately some have now shifted their ground and are now professing concern for independent celebrants who are not acting on the authority of the church.

The fact that some churches (and, of course, Bob McCoskrie and Colin Craig) have shifted ground in this way indicates that their actual position is a homophobic one, and that the ‘arguments’ being used are just window dressing to disguise that. For the sake of completeness though:

  • The body representing independent celebrants reported an overwhelming majority of its members support the Bill;
  • The committee received perhaps two submissions from independent celebrants who said they did not wish to solemnise marriages for same-sex couples, in both cases because of personal religious faith;
  • The Human Rights Commission has made it clear that it would not uphold a discrimination complaint against such celebrants;
  • If the HRC decision were appealed to a higher Court, most lawyers say the appeal would clearly fail, particularly if the refusal was because of religious or ethical reasons;
  • It’s hard to imagine a celebrant refusing to marry a same-sex couple because of sheer prejudice (“I hate gays”) without an ethical or religious basis, but I concede that if such a case ever arose it would be interesting to see what the Supreme Court made of the legal balance between the explicit statement not obliging celebrants in the Marriage Act against the more general requirement not to discriminate in the provision of goods and services in the Human Rights Act, and the Bill of Rights Act.
  • Why on earth would a couple go this rigmarole rather than just finding one of the vast majority of celebrants who wants to marry them?

and let’s not forget that the position of independent celebrants is very clearly not about the relationship of church and state, or religious freedom. Independent celebrants act as agents of the state, with no qualification.

2.  Churches will not be forced to say anything different

As submissions started to come in, we started to see an argument that we hadn’t seen before. Section 56 of the Marriage Act made it an offence to deny the validity of someone’s marriage.

This provision, which so far as we can tell has never been used, finds its origin in the belief of the Catholic Church back in the 1950s that only marriages carried out in the Catholic Church were valid.

Again, some churches and their adherents had been whipped up into a fear that this provision would be used once Louisa’s bill was passed to persecute and imprison those whose religious belief is that marriage should only be between a woman and a man.

While this seemed far-fetched, there was certainly no intent for this to occur, so the select committee has simply recommended the repeal of this section, which seems to serve no useful purpose whatsoever.

3.  No change is being made to the law around use of church buildings

Some churches and others could really do with a refresher on the human rights law that New Zealand has had since the 1970s, including the updated prohibited grounds for discrimination that were added 20 years ago.

If a church makes its church hall available to the public for hire, if someone sells professional photography services, or if someone sells flowers for a living it has been against the law for them to decline to provide their goods and services on the basis of the sexual orientation of their customer for the past 20 years, and on the basis of the customer’s gender for almost 40 years. Louisa’s bill does not change this in any way.

That doesn’t affect churches’ religious space, of course, and again who would want a wedding venue where they weren’t welcome, or a photographer or florist who was unsupportive? Once again these are not real arguments, but are red herrings designed to  divert the eye away from the real source of opposition – prejudice.
The select committee has ensured that the State does not encroach on the religious belief or practice of churches. They will not be required to do or say anything different. But, in allowing those churches, denominations and congregations that DO support marriage equality to be able to exercise their beliefs too, this Bill will in fact extend religious freedom.

It seems a shame that some in our churches see that as a bad thing.

Marriage bill polls and Family First

Family First commissioned a poll and are now making claims based on the results, but the polls are not directly comparable, and Bob McCoskrie is making highly disputable claims like “Support steadily dropped” and “no discrimination in the law currently”.

Colmar Brunton May 2012
In New Zealand same-sex couples can enter into a Civil Union, but they are not able to get married. Do you think same-sex couples should be able to get married?

  • Yes: 63%
  • No: 31%
  • Don’t know: 5%
  • Prefer not to say: 1%

Herald Digipoll question published Dec 27, 2012
“Which of these statements best fits your views about marriage law: 1) It should remain only between a man and a woman (37.5%), 2) It should be changed to allow it between same-sex couples (59.3%)

Herald on Sunday January 6 2013
Do you think that same-sex civil unions should be extended to marriage?

  •   Yes 53.9%
  •   No 38.1%
  •   Unsure 8%

Family First (Curia) February 2013
In 2004, Parliament legislated to allow same sex couples to register a civil union,
amending over 150 pieces of legislation to give legal rights and recognition to same-sex
couples. Do you think Parliament should change the definition of marriage to allow
same-sex couples to marry, or do you think civil unions are sufficient for same sex

  • Change marriage to allow same sex marriage 47%
  • Civil unions are sufficient 43%
  • Unsure/refuse 10%

The first two polls are fairly neutrally worded.
The third poll isn’t definitive, for example “Do you think that same-sex civil unions should be extended to marriage?” could be answered know if you though marriage should be scrapped and everyone have the civil union option equally.

The Family First ‘question’ is a statement that is as loaded as hell and can’t be compared to the others.

The support for Labour MP Louisa Wall’s bill has steadily dropped. Bob McCoskrie said, “We have got past the slogans of ‘marriage equality’ and ‘discrimination’ and the debate is now centered around the real purpose and role of marriage and the fact that there is actually no discrimination in the law currently,”

There is nothing in these polls that refers to support for Louisa Wall’s bill so the “steadily dropped” claim is nonsense, and “actually no discrimination in the law currently,” is false.

Louisa Wall’s marriage equality bill is currently going through Parliament. The first MP vote was strongly in support of it. Some groups are trying to have a referendum on the issue but there are no plans for that.


Family First national director Bob McCoskrie has released a statement saying…

…if same-sex couples are allowed to marry it could be argued that those seeking polygamous, polyamorous and incestuous adult unions are also being discriminated against.

“If we are going to have a debate about same-sex marriage and liberalising adoption laws, it is essential that the politicians acknowledge just how far this is going to go, and what relationships will continue to be discriminated against,” Mr McCoskrie said.

He is calling on political parties to state where they stand on polygamy and polyamory.

#McCoskrieSlope – gay marriage will slip to “polygamous, polyamorous and incestuous adult unions”.

Precisely worded smacking legislation?

There’s been a difficult smacking case in the news – Parents’ hell after choice to strap child – which ended up Smacking conviction overturned on appeal. It was a very difficult family situation where the mother was “convicted after they strapped their 8-year-old son, over his pyjamas”.

Anti-smacking law critics say the case is an example of good parents being criminalised, contrary to assurances from politicians when the law came in.

Family First director Bob McCroskie says…

…the case involved an extremely difficult child for whom the mother had repeatedly sought help, but none was available. He says there is a lack of support for parents who are struggling.

I’m sure he’s right there.

Mr McCroskie also says…

…the legislation is confused and needs to be precisely worded.

First point, this prosecution could have happened under the old version of the law.

And second – how can a smacking law be worded precisely so it caters for every varied situation? Does McCroskrie think the law should specify that any smacking using a belt is legal? Any smacking using any device or implement? Where would he precisely draw the line?

Even the word “smack” is imprecise. It could be used to refer to a tap on a nappied bum. It could also be used to describe a smack over the head with a four by two.

I don’t see how smacking laws will ever be able to be precise.

Smacking will always require discretion by parents. And police.