Another victory in Dutch Reformed Church same-sex unions case

The North Gauteng High Court has rejected an application by an anti-LGBTQ group challenging the recent historic ruling ordering the Dutch Reformed Church to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.

In March, the High Court found that a November 2016 decision by the church to refuse to recognise same-sex unions and non-celibate gay ministers was unprocedural (under the church’s own rules), discriminatory and unconstitutional.

While the ruling in the Gaum and others v General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church case was hailed by LGBTQ rights groups, conservative Christian organisations slammed the decision as imposing on their right to religious freedom.

The group Alliance Defending the Autonomy of Churches in South Africa (ADACSA) went on to apply to the court to get further clarity on whether the judgment was made on procedural as well as substantive (constitutional) grounds.

On Friday, following lengthy arguments and an adjournment of around 45 minutes, the application was dismissed by the full bench. The court said that ADACSA couldn’t prove it is a directly affected party in the case. Importantly, the judges also felt that there was no ambiguity or omission in the judgment.

As a result, ADACSA also withdrew its application for leave to appeal the March ruling to the Supreme Court of Appeal – at least for now. The Dutch Reformed Church earlier indicated that it would not appeal the judgment.

According to Michael Swain, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (one of the organisations that is part of ADACSA) the dismissal “does not necessarily mean that ADACSA will not appeal.”

He argued that “the High Court’s entanglement in what is squarely a doctrinal issue – namely whether or not the Church should be forced to allow practising homosexuals to hold leadership roles, and also to solemnise same-sex unions – remains a serious concern and sets a dangerous legal precedent.”

Laurie Gaum, a gay Dutch Reformed minister and applicant in the case, welcomed the court’s decision to dismiss the application. “This is a further victory for the equality of sexual minorities in religious communities and we trust that this is the end of the road for ADACSA’s efforts here,” he said.

“Perhaps its rather an invitation to them to assist the constituency they seek to represent to affirm the human dignity of all,” Gaum added.

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