The Primate of Southern Africa, the Most Revd Njongonkulu Ndungane, declared that same-sex marriages were “definitely” unchristian in an interview last week. Archbishop Ndungane was speaking after a ruling by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal that the common-law definition of marriage must be extended to include same-sex partners.
The Most Rev Njongonkulu Ndungane stated that the November 30 ruling by South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal that the common-law definition of marriage should be changed from a “union between a man and a woman” to a “union between two persons” was contrary to Christian teaching. “As far as we are concerned as a church, our understanding of marriage is between a man and a woman. And as a church, and the Anglican Church in particular, we have said no to same-sex unions” Archbishop Ndungane said in an interview with the South African Press Association in Cape Town.
Archbishop Ndungane said the Anglican Church would not recognise same-sex marriages and said Church teaching would not be affected by the Court decision. “The Christian teaching is that marriage is between a man and a woman. And therefore that is where the Church is” he said. The Archbishop is known to be one of the most liberal of the African bishops. After the consecration of the Rt Revd Gene Robinson, a practising homosexual, in the United States, Archbishop Ndungane accused those opposed to the ordination of homosexuals of being “arrogant, intolerant and hypocritical”.
On Friday 2 December, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) issued a statement saying that the core teachings of Christianity did not “explicitly prohibit the validation of faithful, loving same-sex relationships”. Its general secretary, Dr Molefe Tsele, expressed support for South Africa’s Constitution, and urged religious leaders to respond cautiously to last week’s court ruling. He said that the traditions and teachings of the Church “have not recognised same-sex marriages”; but he added that some of the biblical passages used to condemn homosexual relationships could not be applied to contemporary society.
Equal Rights campaigners welcomed the ruling, pushing for further government steps towards legislating gay unions. “…our case will now challenge the government to recognise, regulate and protect marriages between two people of the same sex in the same way that it does for heterosexual couples,” Paul Tilly of the Equality Project told a Sunday newspaper at the weekend.
The ruling comes after a survey investigating social attitudes in South Africa recently revealed that 78 per cent of respondents believed it is “always wrong for two adults of the same sex to have sexual relations.” The new research, which analyses the results of the 2003 South African Social Attitudes Survey, shows that only five per cent of South Africans said they saw nothing wrong with two adults having same-sex relations, it was reported.
The ruling must now be confirmed by South Africa’s Constitutional Court, which may ask parliament to implement legislation before gay marriages gets the final go-ahead.