An organisation representing South Africa’s evangelical churches has been granted leave to make submissions in opposition to a legal battle aimed at overturning the Dutch Reformed Church synod’s decision not to recognise same-sex civil unions.
The application by Reverend Laurie Gaum and his father, prominent church figure Dr Frits Gaum, seeks to have to set aside the church’s November 2016 decision.
The decision was that gay or lesbian persons could only be ministers if they were celibate and that the church’s ministers may not solemnise samesex civil unions will be heard in the High Court in Pretoria tomorrow.
This replaced an earlier decision, in 2015, by the church synod which gave individual church councils the discretion to formulate and exercise their own viewpoints and practices with regards to same-sex relationships in their congregations.
The Alliance for the Defence of the Autonomy of Churches in South Africa last week obtained an urgent court order to be admitted as friends of the court and to present legal argument in the application.
Gaum contends the church’s 2016 decision was unconstitutional as it amounted to unfair discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and unjustifiably infringed gay and lesbian members’ right to human dignity, freedom of religion, belief and opinion, freedom of association and the rights of cultural, religious and linguistic communities.
The Commission for Gender Equality, which was also admitted as a friend of the court, contends the Civil Union Act does not confer discretion on religious organisations to decide whether or not to recognise same-sex civil unions or, alternatively, that the provision is unconstitutional.
The alliance was established to protect the autonomy of churches, including the right of each denomination, church and religious grouping to set their own doctrine and govern their internal affairs according to their interpretation of their religious texts.
Alliance chairperson Reverend Moss Ntlha said in court papers that an adverse finding against the Dutch Reformed Church could mean that denominations, churches and religious organisations would lose their autonomy.
They could be forced to adopt “politically correct” doctrinal positions, even if these directly opposed their religious convictions, he said. “This is a severe infringement of the constitutional right to religious freedom,” Ntlha added.