More Same-Sex Blessings motions fail to pass in Australian Synods

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This past weekend saw synods in the metropolitan dioceses of Melbourne and Adelaide here in Australia. We’ve previously reported on the proposed motions there (Melbourne, Adelaide) to provide for blessings of same-sex marriages contracted by civil celebrants. As is becoming clear, these motions are part of a coordinated campaign across the whole country.

In both Melbourne and Adelaide those motions failed to pass, both falling to a “not put” motion (i.e. the synod agreed by a vote that the motion “not be put”) after debate (in fact, after only three speeches in Melbourne). This is an effective way of shelving the motion without a definitive vote against. It’s a political move to avoid some loss of face all around or when the synod decides that the topic is too contentious to come to a clear decision upon.

What this now means is that across the country, except for one diocese (Wangaratta) there has been a failure in the campaign to get a positive vote for same-sex blessings. Of the remaining dioceses, the only places where there is a realistic possibility of a “yes” vote are Newcastle and Ballarat. Both bishops (Stuart and Weatherill) are known supporters of a change in the church’s position on this topic (Peter Stuart telling last year’s General Synod that the church’s doctrine of marriage was “not yet fixed”). Those dioceses, alongside Wangaratta, will now be under real pressure not to take further action that would place them outside of the growing consensus in the national church established both at General Synod and in the diocesan synods.

In other results, the Melbourne motion affirming GAFCON was also not put and the subsequent motion affirming communion with the Church of England was then withdrawn. The later motion against “gay conversion” was passed albeit with substantial amendment.

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  1. Fiona McLean

    A slight correction: the Melbourne motion affirming communion with the Church of England was withdrawn by the mover, rather than “not put”.

    1. David Ould

      Thanks Fiona. We’ll update our post.

  2. linda nolan

    It is pleasing to read that most ACA local synods have come to the conclusion that blessing same-sex civil marriages in church is not a good idea, I assume because to do so would give the impression that Christ’s teaching on marriage is not to be taken seriously in their parishes.

    It is noteworthy that David Ould correctly uses the term “contracted” to describe the relationship entered into by all Australian couples using the Marriage Act. It is also correct to note that, ever since European settlement, Church and State have agreed that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Hence Australian church weddings have always combined civil (legal) & sacramental solemnisations. (So much for the vaunted “separation” of C&S). TBC

    1. Julia Stephens

      The origins of marriage far predate currently established religion. There isn’t a need to enforce our ideology on others, simply because of a word. A civil union and a marriage – neither of these things imply lack of separation. It is you who has decided we have exclusive rights to an age-old right. Whether we give blessings is another thing, but it is disingenuous to try and claim the ceremony of marriage as our own. There is no monopoly on this, like you would seem to think.

      1. David Ould

        who is claiming a monopoly (as you put it), Julia, other than Jesus who gives a clear definition of what marriage is? Doesn’t he have the right to assert a monopoly?

      2. linda nolan

        You misunderstand. I don’t claim any religious monopoly on marriage ceremonies or that Anglican ideology, as you term it, be forced upon anyone. Stand-alone civil marriage ceremonies have been available in Australia for many years. Combined civil & religious marriage ceremonies have been offered by local churches since the First Fleet arrived. Should churches continue providing combined celebrations under the amended Marriage Act is my question.

  3. linda nolan

    If Parliament had been honest with the public they would have admitted that the advent of same-sex marriage spelt the end of the agreement. But they left that for the churches to sort out.

    What local Synods & the next General Synod need to resolve is the real issue – does ACA pull itself out of the Marriage Act by offering sacramental marriages (Holy Matrimony) only, or not? Without resolution of this fundamental issue there will be no end to the current strife.

    We have no need of splitting as per Scotland, New Zealand, etc. Perhaps their marriage laws are/were not conducive to the straight-forward remedy available to Australian churches.

    1. Geoff Fletcher

      I find it interesting Linda that in 6 weeks there has been nil comments re your question about ACA (or any non-civil celebrant body for that matter which does not support the recent Marriage Act amendment) having the courage of convictions to withdraw from the mechanics of the Act. It intrigues me that in all the church weddings I have attended over decades it has never been made clear by the Minister officiating (nor the denomination they represent) that they serve as an agent of the civil Marriage Act AND also to facilitate holy (& non-legal) matrimony. More awareness generally by the public about the role of law & order would probably help!! I actually have a problem with the provisions in the Marriage Act to sanction otherwise unlawful discrimination against same-gender couples (members of the public) by religious celebrants (other members of the public) . But it’s the Law so there it is.

      I repeat from earlier posts my wish (don’t hold your breath!) that legal marriage in Australia be replaced entirely by Civil Union only and that Marriage, as such, be left as a non-legal term / state for traditions to offer as they wish. This position was actually advanced publicly by now-Prime Minister Morrison & Philip Ruddock back in 2015.

      1. linda nolan

        Hi Geoff. You touch on two important outcomes of the amendments Parliament made a year ago to the Marriage Act.

        Firstly, an extreme reluctance (in fact total stonewalling) by Christian church Leaders to acknowledge that the legislative change defining marriage as “2 people” should have been the trigger for churches to cease their involvement, as agents of the Commonwealth, in facilitating legal (civil) marriages.

        In numerous email exchanges with individual Anglican Bishops, Archbishops, and Primate and with individual Roman Catholic Bishops, Archbishops and Bishop’s Conference, every response has the same bottom line – yes, Christ taught X & the law now says Y but, at the moment*, we have no plans to stop our priests from combining civil & religious solemnisations in one church service.

        TBC. (Sorry my laptop only allows a few lines on here, I don’t know why).

  4. linda nolan

    If Church Leaders offered religious solemnisations only, then couples seeking this would have to be civilly married (registry office or licensed marriage celebrant) first, or the priest would be breaking the law. How hard an ask for couples is this?

    I have reached the reluctant conclusion that the current crop of Leaders prefer their clergy to share with public servants the glory of representing the State instead of making a clear public stand that their Church follows the teaching of Christ. TBC.

    1. Geoff Fletcher

      Civil marriage followed by religious solemnisation – as has been done in at least several other major nations for quite some time? We are free to choose that path as individuals in Australia even now!! (But I would prefer Civil Union followed by a Christian marriage!)

  5. linda nolan

    Secondly, I share your reservation that new (8/12/17) exemptions in the Act sanction what would otherwise be unlawful discrimination against same-sex couples. Section 47(3) refers. That exemption specifically provides that ministers of religion may refuse to marry couples if the refusal is because the “doctrines, tenets or beliefs” of the minister’s religion do not allow the marriage.

    That provision clearly breaches S.116 of the Constitution which prohibits Parliament from passing any law for “imposing any religious observance”. In the current climate I suggest it will not be long before an activist couple or group of couples take a major church to court for using S.47(3) to deny them marriage.

    (*) That appears to be the position adopted by church Leaders at the moment – “Wait until we are challenged, then pull out of the Marriage Act”. I wonder what Jesus thinks of their timidity?

    1. David Ould

      I don’t think it’s necessarily timidity (although that could certainly be one of the motivations).
      Rather, I would argue that there is a great political benefit to remained licensed agents of the government. Let them throw us out if they want to. That way as many people as possible can see that it is they who do not want us.

      1. David Ould

        Nevertheless, I understand why some would in good conscience decide they can no longer operate as an agent of the state. It’s not black and white.

        1. linda nolan

          Be assured, from my correspondence with them there is not a single Leader of the denominations I mention, who displays a shred of good conscience in this matter. It is my sincerest wish that this change as soon as possible.

          Parliament have shown, emphatically, that they have no interest in preserving the integrity of Christian churches. Had there been any such interest, they would have secularised the Act when they changed legal marriage parties from a man & a woman to 2 people.

          Parliament won’t be throwing churches out of the Act.

          Churches will withdraw themselves from the Act if they wish to show an increasingly sceptical Australia that they follow Christ’s teaching on marriage.

    2. Geoff Fletcher

      Thanks. It’s refreshing to consider other bits of our Constitution – and get a (temporary?) rest from s44!! But we must have respect for Law and preservation of order . . .

      Timidity? Yes, perhaps, and maybe not wanting to give up the kudos of State sanctioned authority? After the child abuse RC (almost the anniversary of delivering the Report?) it would make a refreshing change to see right being done because it IS right. In addition to other things I think Jesus & all the Biblical record calls us to brains & backbone – think & act rightly. It’s not complicated!!

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