Churches Should Not Disallow Gays and Lesbians Use of the Term Marriage

Article excerpt

BYLINE: David Russell

The Constitutional Court has made it clear that parliament must amend the Marriage Act to ensure that the rights and responsibilities of marriage, presently provided for heterosexual couples, be extended to gay and lesbian couples in a way which is fully equal.

Given that the court has now spoken, those who had previously stood against these legal changes are now making a stand in favour of some term like "civil union" as opposed to "marriage" for gays and lesbians. Their focus is on keeping the term "marriage" for heterosexuals only.

From their perspective, given the long-standing dominant tradition of a particular interpretation of Scripture, one has to say that their focus is understandable. It is important to appreciate where so many of them are coming from.

We are dealing here with deep-seated religious beliefs and cultural assumptions. When these are challenged both sociologically and theologically, it is disturbing for all concerned. Yet, however understandable their perspective, we need to try and address these issues as justly and humanely as we can.

Let's examine further the meaning of marriage from the Christian perspective.

In those churches which understand marriage as a sacrament, it is, in fact, the couple's vows to each other, under God's grace, that constitute the essence of the sacrament. (We are referring here to the teachings of the "churches in the West", in contrast to the Eastern Orthodox churches.)

The church witnesses to their vows, and blesses the couple as they set out as disciples together.

However, churches also recognise that when people get married in court, this too is a valid marriage, whether the couple concerned has religious beliefs or not.

It may be a state marriage, but it is still a marriage because of the couple's vows publicly made, witnessed to, and affirmed. …