30. DEVELOPING A UCA POSITION ON SAME GENDER MARRIAGE (Presbytery of Port Phillip West)

That the Assembly resolve to

request the Doctrine Working Group, in consultation with the Worship Working Group and Uniting Justice, to

1. prepare a discussion paper on

(a)        the Uniting Church theology of marriage;

(b)        whether this theology enables the celebration and blessing of lifelong, faithful, same-sex relationships as ‘marriages’, or

(c)         whether the Uniting Church should seek to develop another way of celebrating and blessing life-long, faithful, same-sex relationships.

2. bring this paper, with appropriate recommendations, to a 2014 meeting of the Assembly Standing Committee.

Rationale

In 2011 the Australian Labor Party changed its official policy platform to support same-sex marriage. It is unlikely same-sex marriage will be legalised by the current parliament because Labor members have been given a conscience vote on the issue, while Liberal members haven’t. However, the issue is well and truly on Australia’s political and cultural agenda.

The Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) allows ministers of the Uniting Church in Australia to legally solemnise marriages (PART IV--SOLEMNISATION OF MARRIAGES IN AUSTRALIA; Division 1 -- Authorised celebrants; Subdivision A--Ministers of religion). If same-sex marriages become legal under this Act, even if religious celebrants are exempted from celebrating them, it would be helpful for the Uniting Church to have a position on why Uniting Church ministers are or are not able to marry same-sex couples.

Currently: “With regard to same-sex relationships the Uniting Church does not have an explicit position. We do not have any authorised liturgies for ceremonies marking such relationships. Ministers have been advised that they are not to mark such relationships by a ceremony that resembles a marriage service.” (Rev Alistair Macrae, ‘Brief Statement from Uniting Church in Australia Marriage’, Position Paper for NCCA Executive, 2-3 November 2011, Document 13.6) As permitted by this position, some Uniting Church ministers have celebrated blessings of same-sex relationships in liturgies that do not resemble marriages.

In 1991, in response to a service of blessing of a covenant relationship held at Pitt Street Uniting Church, the Assembly Standing Committee resolved: “recognising the issues raised are of urgent and far-reaching significance for the Church, to enter upon a period of prayer, study and reflection of the theological, biblical and pastoral aspects involved in the Church recognising a relationship between two persons of the same sex making a commitment to each other in love and fidelity” (ASC minute 91.95.4(a). This was taken up by the Task Group on Sexuality. One of the proposals brought to the 1997 Assembly was that the Standing Committee “appoint a group which includes gay and lesbian members to consider and bring recommendations to the Ninth Assembly on how the Church may respond to lesbian and gay people who wish to have their commitment to a life-long faithful relationship affirmed by the Church” (Assembly Task Group on Sexuality, Uniting Sexuality and Faith, Uniting Church Press, Melbourne, 1997, p. 71). When the Assembly decided not to vote on the recommendations of the Task Group on Sexuality, this proposal disappeared.

More than twenty years after the issue was first raised for the Assembly Standing Committee, now that the rest of Australia is also debating the issue, it is timely for the Assembly to once again look at the theological, biblical and pastoral aspects involved in the Church recognising a relationship between two persons of the same sex making a commitment to each other in love and fidelity.

The Doctrine Working Group would appear to be the appropriate body to begin the discussion, in consultation. The Worship Working Group should be consulted because lex orandi, lex credenda (the law of prayer is the law of belief); our existing marriage service already tells us a lot about the Uniting Church theology of marriage. The work should also be done in consultation with Uniting Justice, because many Australians see this as a justice issue, with campaigns in favour of same-sex marriage centred on the idea of 'equal love' (see, for example, the statement by PFLAG spokesperson, Shelley Argent: “As parents, we want our same sex-attracted sons and daughters to have the choice and right to celebrate their relationships exactly the same as their straight siblings and extended family members and to have these same relationships validated in the eyes of the law.”) http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/news/news-2/4411-families-want.html.[5]  Justice needs to be an aspect of this discussion.