A teacher at a Catholic college in Whangarei, New Zealand, has been suspended and students allegedly threatened in a row with the college’s principal over marriage equality.

The reasons for the stand-off came from the comments of principal Richard Stanton of Pompellier College in the school newsletter. In the document, he made clear his objections to marriage equality under the banner “keeping marriage sacred.”

As reported by TVNZ, a teacher at the college, Nigel Studdart, told New Zealand current affairs programme Close Up that when he saw the newsletter on Saturday he asked that his boss withdraw the comments.

Some of the students set up a Facebook page against the newsletter and were allegedly threatened for the action.

Mr Studdart, who took their side, has been suspended and may yet lose his job.

He said the principal “took the page down and basically frightened a student into doing it which I think is awful”.

This comes as Labour MP Louisa Wall’s Marriage Amendment Bill 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. 

Principal Stanton said in his piece in the newsletter: “My religious objection is aligned with church doctrine on marriage” adding that 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 also stated his belief that same-sex couples believe they have a “right” to children.

“My fear is we are moving towards a society where children become an ‘entitlement’ or ‘right’ and therefore commodities,” he wrote.

Mr Studdard said: “My real problem with [this], separate from the students’ issue really, is where he contended, to use his words, that somehow gay parents would be lesser parents.”

In a statement Mr Stanton said the college “welcomes, and will always welcome parents and children from same-sex families”, adding, “I find difficulty in reconciling that with comments, made by very few, that the newsletter encourages intolerance and discrimination against gays.”

Former Pompellier College pupil Zac Klavs, told Close Up he had spoken to a couple of friends still at the college who took 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 newsletter is going to be promoting intolerance towards gays or any non-heterosexual students at that school.”

Mr Studdart said he still hoped he had 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.’”