The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa has voted to recognize same-sex marriages and will start ordaining gay ministers without a celibacy clause. The DRC has been criticized by other Christian denominations, including by the Roman Catholic Church, for going against biblical doctrine.
South Africa's 24-hour news service eNCA reported that the vote took place last week, and a 64 percent majority of the church's synod voted in favor of supporting gay marriage.
DRC moderator Nelis Janse van Rensburg explained the decision, arguing that: "It is historical because with this decision we actually are at a point where there can be no doubt that the Dutch Reformed Church is serious about human dignity."
"And you know that we are living in this country where we have so many problems with the dignity of people."
Van Rensburg added that individual churches will not be forced to follow the ruling.
"Church councils and congregations are like families. They will eventually decide how they will go about it. They know the context, they know the situation, they know about the faith of these people, so they can decide on that," he said.
Catholic Church spokesman Archbishop William Slattery responded to the decision by stating that the DRC had gone against its biblical doctrine.
"We would not accept active homosexuals as priests but no doubt there may be a priest who is an active homosexual in our church, but he is so without the bishop knowing it. As the Catholic Church, we do not accept that position of the Dutch Reformed Church," Slattery said.
Christian Action Network coordinator Taryn Hodgson added in a statement that the DRC has compromised on the teachings of the Gospel.
"This recent decision is further evidence the DRC [has] failed to fulfil the Great Commission — 'to make disciples of all nations, teaching obedience to all things that the Lord has Commanded. (Matthew 28:18-20),'" Hodgson said, according to News 24.
"Their approval of homosexual unions will further undermine their ability to reach people for Christ."
South Africa's DRC originates from the Dutch Reformed Church of the Netherlands in the 17th century. It has presence in neighboring countries sch as Namibia and Swaziland, and claims an almost 1.1 million membership.
South Africa remains the only African country with legalized gay marriage, which it enforced following a Civil Union Act in November 2006.
According to the CIA World Factbook, a little under 80 percent of South Africa's population belongs to various Christian denominations.