First Same-Sex Church Weddings To Take Place In Australia

It's been more than ten months since same-sex marriage became legal in Australia, and as of Friday, the country's first church opened it's heavy-oak doors to these weddings.

The Uniting Church of Australia (UCA) is the first of the three major Australian Christian denominations to endorse same-sex marriage. It's also the the first to offer gay and lesbian Christians the option of a church ceremony.

“I am excited that we have had the courage to make a decision about marriage which enables us to live together, respecting our two different perspectives on marriage," Dr Deidre Palmer, President of the Uniting Church of Australia told ten daily. 

At least half a dozen same-sex marriages have been locked in to take place by the end of the month.

Biblical scholar and historian Robyn J. Whitaker told ten daily she has been closely monitoring this shift.

“It’s a significant move in an Australian context, but globally it has been done in other large Christian denominations in places like the USA, Canada and Scotland for example,” she said.

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In marrying same-sex couples, Australia’s Uniting Church now joins Canada’s United Church of Christ, the USA’s Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA), the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Lutheran Church of Sweden and the Methodist Church in New Zealand.

"There is some nervousness among other [Australian] church groups who are watching on, wondering what this means for them. We saw a similar chain of events with the ordination of women. The Uniting Church was one of the first to do this in Australia and some other denominations followed,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker says other religious groups are considering a "compromise".

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“I’m aware of conversations about this in some liberal Jewish communities and some Anglican churches. One of the possibilities that is being considered, as a kind of compromise is a blessing ceremony.

So for example, if a same-sex couple were legally wed but still want to be recognised by the church there could be a blessing.”

Same-sex couple Amy Laker and Lauren Price say their vows in a civil ceremony on December 16, 2017 in Sydney, Australia, just one week after it became legal. IMAGE: Getty

In July, more than two thirds of the Uniting Church's 265-member assembly approved two separate definitions of marriage, which it said will be "equal yet distinct".

Whitaker said there's resistance to the change and said "there has been and continues to be a vocal minority in opposition and as the vote shows they are a minority.”

Ministers Still Have The Right To Turn A Same-Sex Couple Away

The church's national assembly also agreed to give individual ministers the right to decide whether to marry same-sex couples.

Palmer says it's important that the religious convictions of ministers were respected and upheld.

“We’ve given our ministers freedom of conscience -- and this reflects the heart of the Uniting Church, we are united but also diverse," she said.

Couples being married in the UCA to choose between two authorised marriage liturgies -- one that continues to use the traditional language of “husband and wife” and one that speaks of the union of “two people” and is therefore open to same-sex couples.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au

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