A teacher at a Catholic college in Whangarei has been suspended and students allegedly threatened in a dispute with the principal over gay marriage.
The bitter stand-off was prompted by comments from Pompellier College principal Richard Stanton in the school newsletter in which he lays out his objections to gay marriage under the heading "keeping marriage sacred."
Teacher Nigel Studdart told TV ONE's Close Up that when he saw the newsletter on Saturday morning he requested that the principal withdraw the comments.
Students who organised a Facebook page were allegedly threatened and Studdart, who took up their cause, has been suspended and could lose his job.
Studdart said the principal "took the page down and basically frightened a student into doing it which I think is awful".
The teacher's comments came as Labour MP Louisa Wall's Marriage
Amendment Bill to allow same-sex marriage was debated for the first
time in Parliament. The bill passed its first reading in a
conscience vote by MPs with 80 in favour and 40 against.
Stanton wrote in the newsletter: "My religious objection is
aligned with church doctrine on marriage."
He said New Zealand society and laws have a Christian base and "should we become non-biased in applying faith-derived values to marriage one could argue for polygamy."
He noted that same sex couples argue for a "right" to children.
"My fear is we are moving towards a society where children become an 'entitlement' or 'right' and therefore commodities," Stanton wrote.
"I acknowledge that possessive parents are not exclusively found in same-sex relationships but I contend that such relationships may be more disposed towards such a mindset."
Studdart told Close Up he has no issue with the principal's stance on gay marriage.
"I fully understand, it's a Catholic school. It wouldn't be my opinion, but he's entitled to his.
"My real problem with it, separate from the students issue really, is where he contended, to use his words, that somehow gay parents would be lesser parents," said Studdart.
The principal declined a request by Close Up to appear on the programme but sent a statement affirming that the college "welcomes, and will always welcome parents and children from same-sex families".
In his statement Stanton said: "I find difficulty in reconciling that with comments, made by very few, that the newsletter encourages intolerance and discrimination against gays."
But Studdart said a teacher's first duty of care is to the students and making classrooms safe.
'We were always told to be tolerant'
Former Pompellier College pupil Zac Klavs, who only left recently, told Close Up he had spoken to a couple of friends he still has there and they have an issue with the principal's newsletter.
"It just seemed to discriminate. I mean while I was there we were always told to be tolerant and to be just towards others.
"And I just find that that newsletter is going to be promoting intolerance towards gays or any non-heterosexual students at that school," said Klavs.
Studdart still hopes he has a future at the college.
"I've been suspended by the principal as far as I know. I'm hoping that the board of trustees - and I teach most of their kids and have terrific respect for them - will actually look at this and say 'what is going on here? Let's get some rational logic.
'Let's actually look at the real underlying story here of looking after the kids, keeping them safe and giving them a good education with Christian values.'"
With exams approaching, Studdart offered to teach his students for free after school hours, if a venue was made available.