The Anglican Diocese of Ballarat passed a motion to move closer to including same-sex marriages at its 32nd synod last weekend.
Coming almost a year after legislation passed allowing same-sex marriages in Australia, the motion asked that the synod “affirms that all people are accorded equal dignity and are created in the image and likeness of God, regardless of their sexuality or gender”, and acknowledge “the reality of the recent change in Australian marriage law to include same-sex couples”.
It also asked that the synod “commends the pastoral value of a Form of Blessing of a Marriage for optional use within the Diocese of Ballarat alongside, or in addition to, a secular wedding conducted by a civil celebrant”.
While the church will not conduct marriages, it leaves open the option to bless civil marriages.
Bishop Garry Weatherill said he had expected the motion to pass, after discussions at last year’s synod.
“I don’t think people off the street are going to come in and ask for a blessing on their marriage, a lot of people couldn’t care less, but if people are part of the church’s life already, or want to be, they probably long to have some sort of religious recognition or blessing of their relationship,” he said.
“What we’re saying is that if the legal stuff is done by somebody else, by a civil celebrant because we can’t do that, we might still be able to offer people a blessing.”
Bishop Weatherill said the next step would be a conference of all Anglican bishops next year.
“Those of us who are in diocese where this have passed are now under pressure to say, we want to do this - Sydney was very against it,” he said.
“What is being said pretty clearly is that the majority of Anglicans in this part of the world believe it should be okay for people to have some prayers or some sort of recognition.”
He added it was unlikely that the church’s doctrine on marriage was going to change “any time soon”.
“For us to officiate at a wedding of a same-sex couple, we need to say we think this is an okay thing to happen,” he said.
“The church’s doctrine of marriage is pretty clear that marriage is between a man and a woman, so it’s pretty hard to change doctrine.”
However, he pointed to other denominations that have begun to allow gay marriages.
“The Uniting Church, for example, they voted for their ministers to actually officiate at a wedding,” he said.
“These are early days on a pretty hot topic.
“People always seem to have stronger feelings about sexual issues than anything else, so emotions run pretty high.”
Ballarat Pride Hub president Kirsten Holden said it was a positive step.
“Considering the Sydney Anglicans wrote to the federal parliament for discrimination to be upheld (in relation to school staff), this is a big step forward for Ballarat,” she said.
“A lot of people in the community follow religions, but still feel a lot of shame - they shouldn’t, it should be more accepting.”
The marriage equality postal survey results, issued in November last year, passed with 61.6 per cent.
In Ballarat, 70.5 per cent of surveys returned were in support, one of the top 25 electorates in the country.
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