The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, also known as the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK), has been forced, by law, to alter its stance on same-sex marriages.
The North Gauteng High Court made its final decision on the matter following a protracted legal challenge brought before it by disgruntled congregants. The contention stems back to a decision undertaken by the Dutch Reformed Church in 2015, when it first resolved to recognise same-sex unions.
Church cites ‘Christian guidelines’
This decision, which was hailed as a progressive step for what is largely considered an overtly-conservative religious establishment, was dubiously reversed in 2016. This sudden reversal, endorsed by the church’s executive structures, was met with public outrage. The church maintained that, after evaluating its initial decision, it found that same-sex unions did not meet ‘Christian guidelines’.
Adding fuel to the fire, the NGK added that homosexual congregants could only become ministers if they remained celibate. The reiteration of these conservative and prohibitive clauses ended up in a fierce court battle.
Court disagrees with the NG Kerk
Reverend Laurie Gaum, his father Dr Frits Gaum and eight other members of the NG Kerk launched a High Court application to have the 2016 decision set aside and declared unconstitutional. The NGK, represented by advocate Schalk Burger, argued that its decision was not discriminatory in nature as it did not prevent same-sex couples from being joined in union within other religious establishments. Burger said:
“I would like to submit that there is no unfair discrimination. As I understand the Constitution there is room for the church to follow its own doctrine.”
The most recent court decision set aside the argument brought by the NGK, effectively overruling its current clauses and reverting them back to those initially sanctioned in 2015. Same-sex marriages will now be recognised and endorsed by the NGK, under legal duress. The celibacy-clause has also been overruled.
The NGK has vowed to review the judgement which leaves room to appeal.