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Uniting Church unlikely to approve gay marriage at this year’s Assembly

NEWS | John Sandeman

Friday 10 July 2015

The Uniting Church in Australia’s (UCA) National Assembly which meets in Perth next week is unlikely to vote for gay marriages in the church.

At the closing date for “proposals” or motions only two had been submitted on same sex marriage: one from the standing committee to “continue discussion” and another from conservative members to affirm the UCA’s official position that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Eternity understands that it is unlikely that the business committee of the UCA’s National Assembly would allow an amendment to either of these motions to accept gay marriage – the normal rules of meeting procedure do not allow an amendment to contradict the spirit of an original motion.

UCA meetings are very different from other church meetings: the UCA tries to arrive at decisions by consensus, and only when that fails is a vote taken – and that requires a 75 per cent majority to pass.
So it is unlikely that the UCA will adopt same sex marriage this time. The first motion on marriage (from the standing committee) will ask a task force to examine “the implications of changing the Church’s current relationship with the Commonwealth Government with respect to the conduct of marriages”. This is the same issue the Presbyterian Church is examining: whether the church should continue to perform marriages on behalf of the State.

A motion from two ministers with a Pacific Islander background, Lu Senituli and Hedley Fihaki, asks the assembly to affirm traditional marriage citing a UCA consultation that reported the“largest number of respondents” were of the view that “marriage is the exclusive term for a covenant between a man and a woman”.

The UCA is a multicultural church and the opposition of their Cultural And Linguistically Diverse (CALD) groups is an important factor in the UCA’s decisions on same sex marriage – outsiders who view it as a mostly relatively liberal church may be surprised by that.

It may be that the campaign for same sex marriage at the national level has drawn the efforts of the UCA’s gay lobby groups away from the National Assembly. The Uniting Network which campaigns for same sex marriage calls for members of this years Assembly to “actively support the community campaign for civil marriage equality” and “Continue to engage in serious theological discussion about the UCA’s doctrine of marriage, with a view to further consideration at the Fifteenth Assembly in 2018.”

Conservative members of the UCA have told Eternity they are surprised by how quiet pro gay lobby groups have been about this issue at this Assembly.

The highlight in Perth will be an address by Justice Peter McClellan who chairs the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. This could be significant for Christian of all denominations.

At the Assembly Stuart McMillan will become President of the UCA. He will be able to greet the Assembly in Gupapuyngu which is one of the Yolŋu nation languages from north-eastern Arnhem Land.

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