Pacific leaders in Auckland, New Zealand, say it is necessary for their communities to hold a public debate on the country’s marriage equality bill to quell fears that it will cause conflict with Pacific churches and undermine “traditional values”.

As reported by Radio New Zealand News, Labour’s Pacific Island Affairs spokesperson, Su’a William Sio, has asked fellow south Auckland MP Louisa Wall to withdraw her bill because it is proving divisive in Pacific communities, and could cost the party votes.

The Marriage Amendment Bill, which has been drawn from the members’ ballot in Parliament, is expected to be put to a conscience vote when it comes before the House.

Reverend Uesifili Unasa, chair of the Auckland Council’s Pacific advisory panel, says there is a great deal of misunderstanding and fear around the bill.

However, he said that attitudes to marriage equality among Pacific communities were diverse and nuanced and that the bill should be debated openly.

The first of the public meetings will be held next Monday night.

One of the organisers, Peseta Betty Sio of the Pacific Islands Safety and Violence Prevention Project, says there are no clear indications of whether Pacific communities will or won’t support the bill.

Ms Sio says the intention of the meeting is to get Pacific communities discussing what marriage equality really means and for the churches to explain why they are against it.