Faith leaders split on same-sex marriages

(File: AAP)

Beyond the legal complexities for Australia's same-sex couples, those who are also religious find choosing a place of worship for the ceremony isn't a straightforward process either.  

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Who can and cannot get married has long been a source of contention.

In Australia marriage is a legal contract, and for around 30 per cent of Australians it's also an act that reinforces religious faith with ceremonies often taking place in churches, synagogues, and temples.

But beyond the legal situation facing same-sex couples, for those who are also religious choosing to conduct a ceremony in a place of worship isn't a straightforward process either.

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Although same-sex unions are available in a majority of Australian states, marriage comes under federal legislation and same-sex couples are not formally recognised as married by the federal government.

The ACT is currently the only state to recognise same-sex unions after it recently passed legislation.

But it's a different matter if same-sex couples want to have a ceremony in a place of worship.

Professor Gary Bouma is a Professor of Sociology at Monash University and also an Anglican priest.

He's also part of a small group of Christian clergy who support same-sex marriage.

The group wants to offset the notion that all religious people are against same-sex marriage.

Professor Bouma says one way of showing this was to be in Canberra when the ACT parliament passed its same-sex marriage legislation.

"We thought it very important to make a religious case for marriage equality and to be present in our ecclesiastical gear, collars or whatever, to make the case in Canberra and to make it personally. It was quite powerful, because all they had heard was negativity coming out of the usual sources. And for us to go in and say, yes we're Christians, yes, we're clergy, yet we happen to be in favour of marriage equality, for a variety of reasons - you could just watch the great pillar of religious opposition crack."

Professor Bouma says he wants to make the point that while specific religions may put forward spokespeople who are against same-sex marriage, within different faiths there is a huge amount of diversity.

Many clergy are torn between their own beliefs and those formally expressed by their faiths.

One such man is Baptist Pastor Mike Hercock.

His church is in an area with a high proportion of same-sex couples and families and he decided supporting same-sex marriage reform was the right thing to do for his congregation.

"We actually recognise that individual churches and individual ministers need to be able to choose marriage equality or not depending on what their decision was. But that didn't mean that it didn't need to change at a legislative level and that was probably the biggest shift. The biggest shift for us is recognising whether we choose to marry people, in terms of me being a minister and marrying people or members in our congregation wanting to support marriage within the church or not, that does not change the fact that the neighbours across the road from me, who have a young child, who goes to the same pre-school as mine, shouldn't have the same opportunity to have their relationship recognised in an equal manner."

While some faith leaders were in Canberra to support the same-sex marriage legislation, others were there to express their opposition.

Among them was a group of Abrahamic faith leaders - that is, collectively belonging to the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths.

The group said that while it affirmed the inherent dignity of all human beings, their faith traditions also affirmed a traditional concept of marriage between a man and a woman as being for the good of the individual, the family and society.

That's a view shared by the managing director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Lyle Shelton.

He says despite the views of individual Christians, every Christian denomination sees marriage as an act that should only occur between a man and a woman.

"Look I don't think religious views are mixed at all. Every Christian denomination in Australia has as its teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman. So there's no departure there. There might be some individuals, as there are in any organisation, who might not agree with the teaching of the organisation but in terms of every Christian denomination, in Australia there's absolute agreement that marriage is between a man and a woman as the Christian church has taught for two millennia. And of course the Jewish religion, which Christianity evolved from, for thousands of years before that. And of course not just Christian cultures but all cultures have believed that marriage is between a man and a woman since time immemorial. So really what we're doing in this day and age is really just a big social experiment."

Christians are not the only religious group divided on the issue.

Jacqueline Ninio is a Rabbi at the Emmanuel Synagogue in Sydney.

Her synagogue follows a non-orthodox stream of Judaism that accepts same-sex marriage and she herself conducts marriage ceremonies for same-sex Jewish couples.

"Human beings, we are taught in the Torah, are created in the image of God and I believe that part of our creation and part of who we are is our sexuality, and I believe that's something that also reflects and mirrors the divine in each of us. And then we're taught a little bit later on, in Genesis, that human beings are not supposed to be alone. We're meant to be in relationships, we're meant to be in partnership with other human beings and I think it would be in my mind a very cruel god that would create somebody same sex-attracted and then deny them the fulfilment of being in a relationship and forming those bonds and connections with another human being. I believe that there is sanctity and holiness in the relationship between couples who are of the same gender or of a different gender. I don't think it makes any difference."

Keysar Trad is a spokesman for the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

He says the Federation doesn't support same-sex marriage, and isn't likely to in the near future.

"We believe in sexual interactions between people to be between male and females and not between people of the same gender. Our position on this will always be to support people of the opposite gender to have these types of relations, and I suppose to provide religious counselling to those who have a different opinion, if they choose to listen to our advice."

But as with the other faith groups, the Muslim world also has a variety of voices on the issue.

In August, SBS's television's Insight program heard from an American-based Imam who conducts same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Imam Daayiee Abdulla says the Koran is open to interpretation on the issue.

"I wanted to say is that I do same-sex marriages and have been doing so for the last 13 years. I'm not the only Imam that does so. I find that the process has been one of dealing with the interpretation and it's always about interpretation and the subjective reasoning that goes behind it. The Koran itself does not say that in clearly in that same way, definitively it must be female or male, but that the person should seek someone who is single because there's a prohibition against having sexual relationships with someone who is already committed in a marriage."

The Australian Human Rights Commission says there are a range of exemptions in place addressing sexual orientation and sex and/or gender identity discrimination.

Religious organisations can use these exemptions as grounds to refuse to conduct same-sex ceremonies.

And attempts to allow same-sex marriage under the federal Marriage Act have been rejected in the federal parliament.

But moves to allow same-sex marriages are intensifying at a state and territory level.

Although the ACT's same-sex marriage law still faces a possible High Court challenge launched by the federal government, New South Wales,Tasmania, and South Australia have begun similar moves.




Source World News Australia

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