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Uniting Church conservatives fail to pause gay weddings

A push-back by conservatives in the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) that would have temporarily halted same sex marriages has been defeated.

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Last year the UCA’s National Assembly voted by a large majority to have two marriage rites –  the traditional marriage service of a a man and a woman, alongside a new one in which “two persons” marry.
Having two rites – and giving local church councils and ministers the ability to choose which one to use – was a compromise between UCA members wanting change and those favouring traditional marriage.

The movers of the proposal emphasised that they were not addressing same-sex marriage but rather their perception of a lack of consultation.

However, conservatives pushed back in a series of votes to force the National Assembly to seek “concurrence” from other parts of the church. If sufficient presbyteries (regional councils) in enough Synods (usually state-level bodies) agree, a matter can be reconsidered. After votes in the Northern synod, and in Queensland, it came down to a vote in South Australia, which has a combined Synod and Presbytery.

The South Australian Presbytery voted to require a two-thirds vote for its decision; Eternity understands that the proposal (motion) that would have seen the national church pause same-sex weddings was defeated by a margin of 51 against to 49 per cent in favour. In the UCA the term “same gender marriage” is preferred.

Clause 39b of the UCA constitution is a never-before-used provision to pause a decision of the national assembly in order to seek reconsideration – in this case the movers sought  “concurrence” from the other councils of the church (including State synods and regional presbyteries). It applies to matters deemed vital to the life of the church.

The movers of the proposal emphasised that they were not addressing same-sex marriage but rather their perception of a lack of consultation. “This proposal is not asking Presbytery to discuss a position on same-gender marriage. Rather, it is about the process giving rise to the Assembly decision,” was how they put it in their proposal (motion).

“For many years, we have been a church in deep pain around the recognition of people of same gender orientation into the full life of our church,” the SA Uniting Church Moderator (state leader) Sue Ellis wrote in a pastoral letter issued after the vote. “That pain has not ended for LGBTQI people or for others with particular theological views. In recognition of this and of the decision of the Presbytery meeting today, I wish to announce my willingness to meet in Conversation Circles to pastorally care and pray for the church.”

Updated to include quote from Sue Ellis, and to fix UCA nomenclature.

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