South African Anglican Church won’t challenge civil unions bill

Cape Town, South Africa

Following a recent meeting of the Synod of Bishops of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa, Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane spoke about the Anglican Church’s position on the Constitutional Court ruling on same-sex marriage that extends the same status, entitlements and responsibilities to same-sex couples as marriage law accords heterosexual couples.

He said the Anglican Church was on a “journey” to get to grips with the issue of same-sex partnerships being recognised by law. He felt there had to be two laws relating to the concept of marriage: the existing act that recognised marriage as being between a man and a woman, and a new act that accommodated “all kinds of unions”. This is similar to the Civil Partnership Bill which was enacted by the British Parliament in December 2005. The Anglican Church of South Africa would not be challenging the civil unions bill, he said.

Archbishop Njongonkulu said: “We are on a journey to understand this whole issue. We have said clearly that our understanding of marriage is one man and one woman. We have said ‘no’ to same-sex unions as well, but we get on with life. I have said to my friends who are gay and lesbian that using the word marriage is like a red flag to a bull. They will be wise to use the word partnership or union. People of homosexual orientation are God’s children. We cannot penalise someone for something not of his or her own making. We are calling for a move away from the brink and seek to find solutions to these contentious problems, the solutions of living with difference in others. Diversity is a creation by the almighty. We need to embrace all of us in our differences and seek to walk together.”

He said that South Africa is a constitutional democracy which protects the rights of minorities. The civil unions bill in no way undermines the church’s understanding of marriage but seeks “to protect the rights of other people in other sorts of unions”. No minister will be compelled to marry people of the same sex and civil unions will not be blessed in church, but “loving support and care” and a welcome will be forthcoming.

This is the message South Africa will be taking to the meeting of Global South Anglican church leaders beginning on Monday 18 September in Rwanda. Archbishop Njongonkulu said the Anglican communion was known as being at the “cutting edge” of many issues and he argues for the church to retain that position, as well as its character of “gracious magnanimity”.

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