Statement from the Anglican Church on Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships in the light of the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa in Bloemfontein, 30 November 2004
We, the Bishops of the Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Anglican), meeting in Kempton Park 2-5 May 2005, wish to address our clergy and people on the matter of marriage and same-sex relationships.
1. We are aware that the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal of South Africa in regard to same-sex partnerships has caused some concern that the notion of marriage in our society is being changed and that this may have consequences for liberty of conscience and religion, interfere with the church's belief and practice, and affect the freedom of its clergy in their ministry.
2. Our Church's position is clear in the Marriage Service in the Anglican Prayer Book, and in the Canons.
2.1 Canon 34 Of Holy Matrimony begins with this affirmation:
'The Church of the Province of Southern Africa affirms that marriage by divine institution is a lifelong and exclusive union partnership between one man and one woman.'
2.2 Our teaching and practice, even when dealing with complex pastoral situations such as marriage after divorce, are guided and governed by this principle. Our Church has repeatedly affirmed that partnership between two persons of the same sex cannot be regarded as a marriage in the eyes of God, and that consequently we do not recognise or bless such liaisons. There is currently a well-known process of discussion and debate about matters of human sexuality in our Church but while this continues, our stance remains unchanged.
3. As we understand the decision of the Appeal Court, its effect is to extend the common-law concept of marriage to include same-sex partners, and provide them with the same legal protections as marriage partners enjoy.
3.1 In its judgement the Court affirms two points which seek to address in advance, concerns which our people have subsequently expressed.
3.1.1 The first of these is in regard to religious freedom in general. The judgement says:
'It is important to emphasise that neither our decision, nor the ministerial grant of such a formula, in any way impinges on religious freedom. The extension of the common-law definition of marriage does not compel any religious denomination or minister of religion to approve or perform same-sex marriages'. (para (36)287e)
3.1.2 Secondly the Court spells this out in relation to marriage officers, by quoting section 31 of the Marriage Act (of South Africa) as follows:
'Nothing in this Act contained shall be construed so as to compel a marriage officer who is a minister of religion or a person holding a responsible position in a religious denomination or organisation to solemnise a marriage which would not conform to the rites, formularies, tenets, doctrines or discipline of his religious denomination or organisation'.
4. It is important to understand that Anglican clergy are not required to be state marriage officers in order to celebrate marriages in church. It is the responsibility of the couple to register their marriage with the relevant authority in the country in which they live. However many clergy become marriage officers as a service to those whom they marry, and as a service to the state. When this happens, the state recognises the rites and rules of the Church and appoints clerics to serve as marriage officers within the tenets and discipline of the Church.
This has 3 consequences.
4.1 The state never requires a church marriage officer to marry anyone outside the framework of the church's regulations. For example, Canon 34 provides that save for exceptional situations, one party to a marriage in church must be baptised; we cannot be required to marry two atheists or adherents of another faith in our churches or by our liturgy. The same applies to our practice regarding marriages after divorce. There does not seem to be any intention on the part of the state to apply pressure in this regard, whether regarding same-sex partnerships or otherwise.
4.2 Clerics who are state marriage officers are not free to operate autonomously, but only within the terms of their licences as clergy, and therefore within the framework of the Canons. Thus a cleric may only normally marry a couple of whom one is baptised, may only marry someone who has been divorced with a licence from the bishop in terms of Canon 34, and may not agree to conduct a marriage service or liturgical blessing for a same-sex couple. To do otherwise would lay a cleric open to ecclesiastical discipline. In South Africa, this basis of operation is clearly accepted and protected by the Marriage Act.
4.3 The law of the land recognises the freedom of conscience of a cleric in regard to conducting marriages, as does Canon 34, notably where a divorce has taken place. This secures the right to decline to do something a cleric is licensed to do, but it does not authorise an individual to do something which their oath of obedience to the church precludes them from doing. Of course an individual may make choices, but as long as a cleric who has qualified as a state marriage officer exercises this role within the terms of a clergy licence and thus as an official representative of the Church, he or she may only do so within the prevailing law and regulations of the CPSA.
5. Therefore the decision of the Appeal Court should not cause alarm among Anglicans.
5.1 The Church is not compelled to conduct same-sex marriages.
5.2 Clergy are not being required to do anything which the Church does not believe or permit.
6. More importantly, we call on our people to continue celebrating the joy of Christian marriage as a lifelong holy partnership under God's blessing, to practise sexual abstinence before and outside the marriage bond, to show concern and compassion to those whose relationships have become broken, to avoid and resist all forms of inter-personal abuse or exploitation, and to continue in love and respect for all those with whom we relate from day to day.
For further information please phone Penny Lorimer, Media Liaison for Archbishop Ndugane on
+27 (0)82 894-1522.