Ecclesia de Lange

The former Cape Town minister who was fired from the Methodist Church for marrying her female partner continued her more than four-year-long battle for equality in court on Tuesday.

Advocate Anna-Marie de Vos told the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) in Bloemfontein that Ecclesia de Lange was constitutionally entitled to marry her partner in light of the Church not having a clear policy on the matter, reported SAPA.

De Lange and her legal team are appealing a June 2013 ruling dismissing her application to order the Church to reinstate her on the basis that she was discriminated against because of her sexual orientation.

The judge then decided that the application was premature and ordered her to pay costs and to resume arbitration within the Church to resolve the issue.

De Lange, who was in court with her second wife Melanie Case, has argued that she lost faith in the Church’s arbitration process because it was biased against her and that she was thus entitled to approach the courts. She said that arbitration would be unfair and pointless.

The Methodist Church is fighting de Lange all the way, insisting that the former minister’s dismissal was justified because she had broken the Church’s rules by marrying a woman.

It says that while the issue of same-sex marriage is still under debate in the Church, it only currently recognises marriage between a man and a woman.

Representing the Church, Wim Trengove said that an arbitrator was the only solution to avoid the courts having to rule on a religious dispute.

The courts have so far agreed, seeming fearful of having to rule between apparently competing constitutional rights – those of equality and freedom of religion.

The SCA has reserved judgement on the matter, but Mike Luppnow, De Lange’s former media spokesperson, does not seem very confident in the outcome of the appeal.

He wrote on Facebook on Tuesday night: “Personal comment: bias exhibited from the bench seems to indicate that the clergy and judiciary are in bed on this issue. If we can muster the support we should go to Constitutional Court now.”

De Lange was fired by the Methodist Church of South Africa (MCSA) in 2010 when she told her Brackenfell and Windsor Park congregation that she intended to marry her partner at the time.

In January 2010, a disciplinary hearing found De Lange guilty of “failing to observe the provisions of the Laws and Disciplines and all other policies, decisions, practices and usages of the Church…”

A month later, the MCSA’s Connexional Disciplinary Committee upheld the guilty verdict and sentenced De Lange to be “discontinued” from the ministry of the MCSA.

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