The Church and Same-Sex Marriage
by Lyndon Barnett
Tremendous support for same-sex
marriage was displayed on Saturday August 13. In Sydney, hundreds gathered at
Taylor Square to hear various high-profile speakers before marching along
Oxford Street to Hyde Park. Similar rallies of support were held in Melbourne,
Brisbane, Hobart and Perth.
The rallies coincided with the anniversary of the Federal
Senate passing the Marriage Amendment Act 2004. This Act defined marriage as
between a man and a woman, and also stated that marriage ceremonies conducted
overseas between same-sex partners were not recognised in Australia. While
same-sex marriage was never legally possibly, the Federal Government had passed
an Act that outlawed recognition.
The focus of the rally was on legislative change. The
campaign aimed to over-turn the Marriage Amendment Act and also advocated
legislation permitting same-sex marriage in Australia. Such legislation would
create greater equality for gay and lesbian couples.
In Australia there are three avenues for marriage as
legislated in the Marriage Act 1961: in a religious setting, civil ceremony
with a marriage celebrant and at the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.
For complete equality, gay and lesbian couples should have the choice of which
method they choose for their marriage.
In the case of a commercial civil celebrant and the
government sponsored Registry there would be no imposition for same-sex couples
to be married with the appropriate legislation.
In the case of a religious service, the church and the
Ministers would also have to agree to hold the wedding. It is quite feasible
that the legislation could be passed and yet the Priest at the chosen church
would not perform a same-sex marriage, as homosexuality is not recognised in
that particular church.
Hillsong, a Pentecostal branch of Christianity considers
homosexuality a sin, and believes that it is impossible to be both homosexual
and a Christian. That being said, Anthony Venn-Brown is the first openly gay
man to be a member of Hillsong with the Waterloo Church. A former Leader with
the Assemblies of God, Mr Venn-Brown has written his autobiography, A Life of
Unlearning, explaining his twenty-two years living a closeted life within the
Mr Venn-Brown is challenging the traditional church
doctrines from within the organisation. He is using discussion and education to
change the attitudes of the conservative thinkers. Mr Venn-Brown recently
contacted the founder of the Hills Christian Life Centre, Brian Houston to open
a dialogue. In an unprecedented move, Mr Houston has agreed to meet with Mr
Venn-Brown to discuss the issues of homosexuality and the church. Such an
invitation would not have happened ten years ago, says Mr Venn-Brown,
It demonstrates that the views are changing slowly.
I believe acceptance of homosexuality within
Hillsong may take thirty years. Full equality in Hillsong would be for an
openly gay or lesbian to be ordained. The church to permit same-sex marriage
should potentially take somewhere within that thirty year period, says Mr
There has been debate surrounding same-sex marriage in the
progressive Synagogues of Australia for several years. Twice a year Rabbis of
reform Synagogues, or Moetza as the Rabbis are collectively known meet to
discuss Jewish policy. The Jewish Gay support group, Dayenu made a presentation
to the Moetza in 2000 to open the debate on same-sex ceremonies. Judy Kell, who
was part of the team that made the presentation, said that the Rabbis
felt the congregants needed further education so that Jewish community would
accept same-sex ceremonies. In 2001, Ms Kell and her team organised a
years program on gay and lesbian issues to educate the community.
The program we put together was very well attended and a great success.
Dayenu feels that we have been educating the community for a considerable time
now, says Ms Kell.
The current official line according to Rabbi Fred Morgan
from Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne is that, we (the Moetza) are
committed to further study and learning in this area, and we regularly revisit
the issue at our biannual meetings. A source close to the Moetza believes
that the Rabbis are shifting their views in favour of same-sex recognition. The
next meeting is scheduled for November 2005.
If the Moetza agree in essence to relationship recognition
then it would be up to the discretion of the individual Rabbi whether to
perform the ceremony or not. It is highly conceivable that Synagogues with
several Rabbis may only have one Rabbi prepared to officiate. The service could
also only take place if both individuals were Jewish.
In America, reform Rabbis have been officiating over
same-sex ceremonies since the early 1990s. A Rabbi in New York married
Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker in 1998. Ms Phelps and Ms Stricker are
members of the Sydney Temple Emanuel, where they are recognised as a family
unit when dealing with the synagogue. The anniversary of their commitment
ceremony is acknowledged each year. Should the Moetza allow same-sex marriage
then Ms Phelps and Ms Stricker would be able to have a ceremony in Sydney, and
should the government pass legislation then they could have a third ceremony to
be recognised in the eyes of the state.
Traditional orthodox synagogues do not currently recognise
homosexuality and therefore would not permit same-sex couples to be married
under their huppa.
In Sydney, the Catholic equivalent of reform Synagogues is
the United Ecumenical Catholic Church. Archbishop Ron Langham describes his
church as a contemporary Catholic Church open to all people. We worship
in the same fashion as Rome without the restrictions that come from Rome,
says Bishop Langham.
If anybody rang me up tomorrow I would be more than
happy to be involved in same-sex commitment ceremony. We believe same-sex
relationships are as valid and sacramental as heterosexual relationships.
Similarly, if the legislation was passed I would be more than happy to perform
The Ecumenicals progressive views are in stark
contrast to the doctrines from Rome, which considers homosexuality a sin.
We are not interested in getting into a bun fight with other churches
over their beliefs, says Bishop Langham, We respect others
rights to believe.
Bishop Langham conducted the first wedding in Australia in
2002 between two individuals who had both undergone transgender operation.
This was only possible because the Government had failed to consider this