Uniting Church in Australia Changes Marriage Definition to Include Same-Sex Couples

Uniting Church
A picture of the Uniting Church in Bathurst, New South Wales, Australia. |

The Uniting Church in Australia's Assembly voted Saturday to change the denomination's definition of marriage and allow ministers to officiate weddings for same-sex couples. 

In a statement posted on the Church's website, Uniting Church in Australia President Deidre Palmer announced the changes that were made by the 265-member assembly that gathered in Melbourne, saying: "To honor the diversity of Christian belief among our members, we will hold two equal and distinct statements of belief on marriage."

The first statement of belief regarding marriage is one that the Uniting Church has been following for a long time.

"The existing statement of belief that 'marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of a man and a woman to live together for life' has been retained," Palmer said before added that "a new additional statement of belief has also been adopted."

"That statement reads 'marriage for Christians is the freely given consent and commitment in public and before God of two people to live together for life,' Palmer said. 

Uniting Church in Australia is the third-largest Christian denomination in the country.

According to the pastoral letter written by Palmer, the issue of same-sex marriage has been talked about by the church for over 30 years and it "has been a difficult one, as it has been for many people of faith."

The Uniting Church now following two statements of belief regarding marriage means that it will be up to ministers to decide how they want to proceed.

Palmer assured members of the Uniting Church that their beliefs regarding marriage will continue to be "respected and protected." And ministers who decide to adhere to the biblical definition of marriage won't be forced to officiate same-sex marriage ceremonies. 

During a Sunday service at the St. Andrews Alphington Fairfield Uniting Church, the Rev. Alexandra Sangster commented on the decision. According to Sangster, "It was a compromise, not going far enough for many and going beyond the pale for others," ABC News Australia reported.

Sangster also called the decision one that "has opened the final official door."

Meanwhile, the Bathurst Uniting Church is currently trying to determine which position it will hold. Speaking on the matter, the Rev. Claire Wright said she will first meet with the members of her congregation before issuing a decision, the Western Advocate reported.

A majority of Australians, 61.6 percent, voted in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage in November 2017. Many Christians have expressed concerns over their ability to live out their beliefs without being penalized.

Earlier this year, Hillsong Church and a number of other top Christian organizations in Australia asked the government that they be exempt from anti-discrimination laws, including in the case of hiring and firing employees.

"We've never needed to protect religious freedom before, but now we do," said Patrick Parkinson, a professor of law at the University of Sydney and a board member at Freedom for Faith, the think tank that submitted a religious freedom act proposal.

Parkinson said in his over 100-page submission to the Ruddock Review (which was created to examine whether Australian law protects freedom of religion) that there has been a "persistent campaign to remove religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law."

"Our society is changing: hostility toward people of faith is increasing, exemptions in anti-discrimination laws necessitated by religious beliefs are being increasingly challenged, and people of faith are experiencing increasing discrimination and attacks on their freedom of speech and association," he wrote, noting that there is "almost no legal protection for freedom of religion in Australia."

And while religious freedom has broad support in the country, many confine it "to be nothing more than freedom of belief and worship (which is not under threat)," he added.

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