Dutch Reformed church to defend decision on gay clerics

21 August 2018 - 12:58 By Leonie Wagner
Judge Raulinga questioned whether the applicants were similarly attempting to infringe on the church’s rights.
Judge Raulinga questioned whether the applicants were similarly attempting to infringe on the church’s rights.
Image: 123RF/nito500

The Dutch Reformed Church will have to explain in court why it made an about-turn on a 2015 decision allowing homosexual pastors to be in relationships.

The matter is being heard in the Pretoria High Court‚ where Laurie Gaum; his father‚ well-known cleric Frits Gaum; Judith Kotze and Michelle Boonzaaier have challenged the Dutch Reformed Church’s decision to rescind its initial decision.

In 2015 the church ruled that it would allow pastors to marry homosexuals in the church and the church’s gay and lesbian pastors to be in sexual relationships. Following an extraordinary synod meeting‚ that original order was overturned less than a year later.

Advocate Jeremy Gauntlett SC‚ representing Gaum and the other ministers‚ said the reversal of the 2015 decision was procedurally flawed.

Accepting that the church had a “degree of autonomy”‚ Gauntlett argued that this right should not infringe on section 9 of the constitution.

“You cannot privatise discrimination…and what the church cannot do is cut into section 9. We are not attacking what other people believe‚ the church can organise itself the way it likes‚ but it must not go outside of section 9. We have to accept that sexual orientation is there in section 9 and if it holds good for race and gender‚ then it holds true for sexual orientation‚” Gauntlett said.

The matter is being heard by Judges Joseph Raulinga‚ Daisy Molefi and Sulette Potterill. Judge Raulinga questioned whether the applicants were similarly attempting to infringe on the church’s rights and how Gauntlett proposed the court deal with “competing rights”.

“If you say [your clients’] rights are being trumped‚ are you not effectively also trumping the church’s rights?” asked Raulinga.

The case continues. Arguments will be heard by the Dutch Reformed Church and the Alliance for the Defence of the Autonomy of Churches in South Africa‚ which last week obtained an urgent court order to be admitted as friends of the court and to present legal arguments in the case.

Also joining as a friend of the court is the Commission for Gender Equality‚ which 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. 

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