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Sydney marriage vows may be illegal

07 September 2012

THE Australian Federal Government's Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has suggested that a new draft marriage service devised by the diocese of Sydney might not be legal.

The draft service, part of a collection of new liturgical resources being developed by the diocese's liturgical panel, is to be brought to the diocesan synod in October, but is already in use in some parishes. It requires the bride to vow to "submit" to her husband "as the Church submits to Christ". She also commits herself to "honour" and "respect" him, while the bridegroom vows to "love and cherish her as Christ loved the Church".

The chairman of the liturgical panel, the Rt Revd Robert Forsyth, a Sydney regional bishop, has defended the choice of the term "submit" on the grounds that it is a "deeply biblical word". But a New Testament scholar, the Revd Dr Kevin Giles, of Melbourne, said that in 2012 the subordination of women made for bad theology.

Under the terms of the government's Marriage Act, clergy are authorised to conduct weddings using any form or ceremony "recognised as sufficient for the purpose by the religious body or organisation" to which they belong. A statement from the Attorney-General's office has confirmed that the "religious body" in this case would be the Anglican Church of Australia, not an individual diocese.

The Primate of Australia and Archbishop of Brisbane, Dr Phillip Aspinall, has also suggested that the legality of the new service in terms of church law might have to be decided by the Church's highest court, the Appellate Tribunal. The legality question was important, he said in a statement.

There has been a strong public reaction to the proposed new vows, with an outpouring of comments in newspapers' letters columns, blogs, and on social media.


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