The Uniting Church in Australia will continue to allow ministers the right to decide whether to marry same-sex couples following a vote in South Australia.
- Conservative church members pushed the assembly to reconsider allowing same-sex marriages
- A deciding vote was made in SA on Saturday
- An LGBTIQ advocacy group welcomed the news but says people have “felt the strain”
Last year, the church’s national assembly agreed to give individual ministers the choice to marry same-sex couples.
However, conservative members of the church pushed for the national assembly to reconsider its decision.
Some of the church’s presbyteries — council’s which have oversight over state ministries and congregations — requested further consultation.
A deciding vote made on Saturday by the South Australian presbytery was 51 to 49 per cent in favour of not referring the issue back to the national assembly.
“It was right down the middle,” Reverend Sue Ellis, moderator of the Uniting Church in SA, said.
“We were looking for at least a 67 per cent majority [to refer the issue back to the national assembly] and it was nowhere near that.”
Matter was ‘vital to the church’
Under church rules, if enough presbyteries requested further consultation within six months of the decision being made, same-sex marriages would have been suspended while a review was undertaken.
The Uniting Church said presbyteries in the Northern Territory and Queensland referred the matter to the national assembly, deeming it a matter “vital to the life of the church”.
“Across the whole of Australia most people don’t see that this is vital to the life of the church,” Reverend Ellis said.
“Only a few have said it’s vital to the life of the church.”
Reverend Ellis said she was prepared to marry any couple who wanted God’s blessing, but that ministers still had the right to choose.
“The actual assembly decision allows for two beliefs on marriage,” she said.
“So the people who hold a conservative or traditional view of marriage, being between a man and a woman, will continue in that belief and will continue to teach and practice that belief.
“And those who uphold that two people can be married, of any gender, will teach and practice that belief and continue it.”
LGBTIQ Christians felt the impact of discussion
Reverend Ellis said the past few months had taken a toll on Christians from the LGBTIQ community.
“It’s been a very difficult time… they’re very relieved that the decision will continue so that their marriage plans will continue and not be disrupted,” she said.
She said LGBTIQ people were still welcome within the Uniting Church, even though there was still a clear division of opinion on same-sex marriage within the South Australian presbytery.
“You have congregations that are very warm to LGBTIQ people and welcome marriage between those people since the Government law has changed,” she said.
“The people who identify as LGBTIQ know which churches and which ministers would want to give a Christian blessing onto their marriage.”
In a statement, LGBTIQ advocacy group, the Uniting Network Australia said many Christians from their community felt relieved but tired and broken.
“The LGBTIQ community has continued to be under the microscope especially by other Christians over the last 18 months,” the group said.
“There is a cumulative effect with all of this that continues to impact the mental and spiritual health of people and even the most resilient have felt the strain.”
Conservatives to instigate ‘contingent’ plans
Reverend Rod James said LGBTIQ people were welcome at the Uniting Church, but said the decision not to review same-sex marriage would pose challenges for Christians in understanding the “truth of God”.
“It’s not a supermarket where you can take the brand you like,” he said.
“I believe this decision will cause enormous disruption and disintegration of the Uniting Church… the principle of diversity is reigning over the principle of what is the truth of God.
“That is a core issue of the church and a matter vital to the church.”
Reverend James said the result of the vote was predictable and “contingent plans” had already been drafted by conservative members of the Uniting Church.