When is homophobia fair? When the NG Kerk says so
The church is in court trying to reform what is already reformed, but some of its members are not having it
The case between the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), or the Dutch Reformed Church, and its members will come down to semantics.
Is the church’s decision to no longer recognise same-sex marriages a case of discrimination or unfair discrimination?
In 2016, the church reneged on a previous decision allowing same-sex unions to be solemnised in the church. It also said gay and lesbian people could only be ministers or in leadership positions within the church if they remained celibate.
Several of the church’s members, including Laurie Gaum, his father, well-known cleric Frits Gaum, Judith Kotze and Michelle Boonzaaier, are challenging the church’s decision to no longer recognise same-sex marriages.The Pretoria High Court on Tuesday heard arguments from advocate Schalk Burger SC, representing the church, who told the court the church “understood the pain” of its members, and added the decision to rescind the initial ruling had not been taken lightly.
Burger said the decision had been taken over a period of four days, which involved “serious debates and prayer meetings”.
Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC, representing Gaum and the other applicants, maintained the decision was discriminatory, and said the church was in fact making his clients out to be “incorrigible bigots” when their main concern was their constitutional rights.Burger told the court same-sex couples had many other avenues to solemnise their union, “just not in the Dutch Reformed Church by a minister ordained in that church”.
When Judge Joseph Raulinga asked if this stance was discriminatory, Burger argued that according to the Constitution a distinction needed to be made between discrimination and “unfair discrimination”.
“What section 9 of the Constitution deals with is not discrimination, but unfair discrimination. The question here is about the competing rights between the church and its doctrines and its members. This is a question not just for the Dutch Reformed Church,” Burger said.
“If this application succeeds, we are going to have ramifications throughout the country, and many more churches are going to be upset.”
Gauntlett argued what made the matter discriminatory was not only that the church imposed celibacy on a specific group of people, but also that it would not allow its ministers to perform a “fundamental function” that the church itself created.In his closing argument, Gauntlett said if the applicants were not successful, “we’ll be back”.
Before reserving judgment, Raulinga told Burger that it appeared that “over and above denying the applicants their right to equality, are you also not denying them their right to human dignity?”
Speaking to Times Select after court adjourned, Frits Gaum said the issue of homosexuality had always been important to him, but that it became more personal when it involved his son.
He said the outcome of this case was important because it would have an impact on all religions communities.
“I’m sorry that it was necessary to come to court for this. We prayed a lot about this, and we know that this is the best way. Discrimination is wrong, discrimination against gay people is wrong, and it’s also wrong in the eyes of God,” Frits said.