Picture: Alan Taylor/African News Agency (ANA) Archives
Pretoria – The Dutch Reformed Church will have to explain to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, why it recanted on an earlier ruling to approve same-sex unions.

The church changed its stance a year later, saying these relationships did not meet Christian guidelines.

Reverend Laurie Gaum, with the support of his father Frits Gaum, who is a leading figure in the church, are asking the court to overturn the 2016 decision in which same-sex relationships were denounced by the church council.

In 2015, the church gave its blessing to it.

The matter is set down for August 21, when the court must decide whether the church’s change of heart, barely a year after its groundbreaking resolution to acknowledge same-sex unions, is consistent with its constitution and the Constitution of South Africa.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in South Africa since the Civil Union Act came into force in November 2006. In 2015 the church gave its blessing in this regard in line with the Constitution and the decision of many other churches.

It concluded at the time that “the best application of the Biblical message as we understand it, accepts same-sex relationships”.

It also permitted pastors to solemnise same-sex unions and it allowed for homosexual persons to participate fully in all the activities and privileges of the church.

The following year, during an extraordinary meeting in 2016, the General Synod of the church made a U-turn and went back to its original stance of not recognising same-sex relationships and unions.

This decision was binding on every member of the church.

Gaum, in papers filed at court, said this was done despite accepting that a substantial part of the Dutch Reformed Church’s membership holds the unshakable religious conviction that same-sex relations are permitted by the Bible and that God did not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

It will be argued on Gaum’s behalf that through this “flawed” decision-making process and its outcome, the church and the synod have infringed the right to religion itself and they have imposed their religious beliefs on others.

The result, Gaum said, was severe emotional and spiritual harm, culminating in deep human suffering.

It will be argued that the effect of the 2016 decision is to preclude members of the gay and lesbian community from concluding civil partnerships – which Parliament has provided by law for all South Africans – in their own church.

Gaum said that in the church’s own words, the effect of the 2016 decisions is that “a gay or lesbian person can only be a minister if he or she is celibate and ministers are not permitted to solemnise same-sex civil unions”. This is the position, even if every church member or pastor in a particular congregation, held a different religious conviction.

He said that there has been no change in biblical text or its interpretation, or scientific findings since 2015 which justified the church’s change of heart a year later. Gaum said that while the 2015 decision was celebrated by some, it was seen by others to be sinful behaviour.

The church, on the other hand, said the 2016 decision (banning same-sex relationships and unions) constituted the sincerely held religious beliefs of the majority of the delegates to the General Synod, and thus of the church as a religious institution. It said that the new decision was the result of days of introspection and debate, with the floor being given to both sides. The church said the 2016 decision reflects its best understanding at the time of what the Bible requires.

“This goes to the core of the religious belief system of the church and it is not a matter with which a court should get entangled,” it said.

Pretoria News