‘We’ll fight the church if it appeals gay marriage ruling’
So say the people who helped overturn a decision by the NGK not to recognise same-sex unions
Laurie Gaum, who won a high court bid against the Dutch Reformed Church’s banning of same-sex unions, has vowed to continue the fight if there is an appeal against the judgment.
Last week’s ruling by the Pretoria High Court overturned the church’s decision to not recognise same-sex unions.
In 2015, the church agreed to allow pastors to marry same-sex partners within its institutions, as well as lifting the ban on LGBTQI pastors having same-sex relationships. However, reportedly spurred on by homophobic congregants, the church reversed its decision less than a year later, saying such relationships did not meet “Christian guidelines”.
Ministers were also prevented from solemnising same-sex unions.
But on Friday last week, a full bench led by judge Joseph Raulinga overturned the decision, following almost two years of opposition from Reverend Gaum, cleric Fritz Gaum – the reverend’s father – and eight other members of the church.
The church’s lawyers had earlier argued the decision to rescind its approval of gay unions was not taken lightly.
Advocate Schalk Burger told the court that since 2004, the general synod had held its stance against gay unions, but that the decision to alter this created a backlash from its members, prompting the about-turn.
He argued the constitution allowed churches to enforce their own mandate. “I would like to submit that there is no unfair discrimination. As I understand the constitution; there is room for the church to follow its own doctrine,” he said.
Gaum’s lawyers argued the church’s decision-making process was flawed, and that the church and its synod had infringed on the right to religion and imposed their religious beliefs on others.
In effect, the 2016 decision precluded members of the LGBTQI community from engaging in civil partnerships – which has been legal since 2005 – in their chosen church. Advocate Jeremy Gauntlet, representing Gaum and his associates, said the policy within the church was discriminatory, hurtful and unconstitutional.
“If celibacy is the virtue of morality, then they would tell everyone in the church to be celibate. If it holds good for race, holds good for gender, then it should hold good for sexual orientation,” he said.
However, the high court ruling will allow the church to be able to conduct same-sex marriages once they have obtained a licence from home affairs, while also allowing gay or lesbian members to become pastors within the church.
While the church has thus far only said it would review the judgment before deciding on whether to appeal, it would take about two weeks before it would have to submit its decision to the court. Thus far, the church has been mum on what its next step would be.
Spokesperson Dewyk Ungerer told Times Select the church would be meeting its lawyers on Thursday afternoon to decide a way forward.
Gaum said if the church decided to appeal, he and his associates would “continue the struggle”.
“It would be disappointing, as [the judgment] should indicate to the church to stop wasting congregants’ money. I believe there was an estimate that it cost between R3m and R5m [in legal fees], and now they have to pay costs,” Gaum told Times Select.
He said he hoped the court’s decision would allow the church to do some introspection on the issue, and that he was aware of a divided opinion on the court’s decision among its congregants.
“Still, we need a diversity of voices within the church,” he said.