A Newcastle Presbyterian pastor has defended posting an anti-same-sex marriage message on a billboard outside his church on the day before Valentine’s Day which so incensed someone in the local community they responded by graffiting the church.

Rev Ian Copland posted a sign reading “even tradies know that you need both male and female joints to make a marriage,” on a billboard outside Wallsend Presbyterian Church in response to Greens MP Adam Bandt and Labor MP Stephen Jones introducing marriage equality bills in the Federal Parliament on Monday

Local gay man Nick Kelly told the Star Observer he was disgusted by the billboard which he thought showed religious opponents of same-sex marriage had some way to go to live up to their own calls for respectful debate on the issue.

“It’s a very crude message, particularly on a day that couples should be coming together,” Kelly said.

“If that is their view, then that’s fine,” Kelly said, “But it shouldn’t be placed where the general public have to look at it.

“There is quite a large lesbian community in Wallsend so when those couples walk down the main street on Valentines Day that will be the first thing they have to look at.”

Overnight, graffiti appeared on the church reading “love thy neighbour, not hate thy gays,” “let him without sin cast the first stone,” and, “religion is an equal right, how is marriage not?”

Rev Copland told the Star Observer he had not anticipated the timing of the message would offend anyone and did not apologise for it.

“Our church has a very prominent billboard in the main street and we’re always putting notices up there about all sorts of issues,” Copland said, “The last issue was problem gambling and certainly no one reacted to that sign.”

Copland said he was not sure that all members of the public would know of his church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“There are some churches who are wavering on the issue so we put it up there to get some discussion in the community,” Copland said.

Copland did not agree that some people might think it was inappropriate to put a message that some would interpret as referring to genitalia on a church billboard.

“It was just a play on words,” Copland said, “If you’re having a bit of plumbing at your house done there is a male and a female end of the plumbing and when they’re joined together that’s called a marriage. If you’re going to be politically correct they’d have to stop calling them that wouldn’t they?”

A number of tradespeople left comments complaining about the billboard on the Newcastle Herald website, with a number saying they were supporters of marriage equality.

Copland apologised if any tradespeople had thought he was implying that tradespeople were stupid and said he would have left out the word “even” in retrospect.

“If that’s going to be misinterpreted or cause offence to people for the wrong reason then I’m prepared to withdraw the word ‘even’ and apologise for that.”

However Copland said he would draw the line at putting up a similar billboard telling people of other faiths that they would not go to heaven if they didn’t accept Jesus Christ – although he believes that.

“I don’t think that’s an appropriate thing to put on the church billboard. I’m a pretty positive person, so I like positive messages.”

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