I don’t have much patience for bullies. Especially when they turn on an 80-year-old lady.
And last week they did, as it happens. But remarkably, we seem to have gotten the victim and the bullies mixed up, because in this instance we appear to have made the victim feel afraid. By the way, it all has to do with the news that luxury wedding venue Stoneridge Estate lifted its ban on same-sex marriage.
How it got labelled a ban is a mystery. After all, according to the owner it was just a statement in the contract for couples saying that, due to her convictions, the woman with a lifetime lease over the chapel preferred same-sex marriages not be held there.
Besides that, a ban would be illegal. There is no protection, you see, for hired spaces deemed sacred by any religious group from having to hold marriage ceremonies that contravene their beliefs.
But back to the story about our bullies. A couple of weekends ago, everything changed. According to the article, a couple who inquired about the chapel recently were “put-out” by the request. Days later, the media contacted Stoneridge Estate to ask about their same-sex marriage “policy” at the chapel. The next thing you know, owner Wayne Gore announced that he had talked to his mother and the request would be removed from the contract.
At first glance, it seems clear cut. Victimised couple, bullying religious bigot, right?
Except, at second glance, it all looks painfully like a betrothed couple decided to use the media to hurt someone who had offended them. To hurt someone whose request they were well within their rights to ignore, and whose chapel they could have hired no matter their sexual orientation.
Because the couple weren’t the ones made to feel afraid, apparently. Instead, it looks remarkably like our wealthy businessman was worried. Worried, perhaps, about what damage an accusation like this might do to his business. We get hints of this, of course, in the fact that one phone call from the media was enough to send him off for a chat with his mother, and to return announcing that she would renege her a request based on deeply held convictions.
And that, presumably, means an 80-year-old lady who had built a little chapel as the expression of her faith felt she was completely and utterly unable to operate it according to that faith.
By the way, the chapel was, according to our 80-year-old lady, “a gift given to her by God”. It meant the world to her, because her faith had helped her through a life-threatening illness, and a terrible car accident, you see.
Despite not being able to kneel, thanks to having had two legs broken in the accident, she managed to see the little chapel through to completion in 2004. And while her son owned the rest of the estate, she maintained a lifetime lease over the building because of how special it was to her.
In a beautiful display of respect and tolerance, her request had been upheld without complaint by more than 100 same-sex couples who had been married elsewhere on the estate.
All of which makes you wonder who the real victim and who the real bullies were, like I say. Were the victims the couple able to get married at hundreds and hundreds of venues around New Zealand, but asked to respect the convictions of an old lady at one? Or was the victim an old lady with only one chapel – one sacred place that really meant something to her – and who was forced to act against her beliefs?
It seems pretty obvious to me.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz