BY A majority of 78 per cent, the synod of the Victorian regional diocese of Wangaratta has, by secret ballot, passed a regulation to enable the blessing of same-sex marriages (News, 23 August). Wangaratta is the first Australian diocese to do this.
The regulation, which has already come into force, does not specifically refer to same-sex marriages. Instead, it provides for “persons married according to the Marriage Act 1961”: the Australian Government Marriage Act that was amended in 2017 to provide for same-sex marriages. The Wangaratta regulation includes a prescribed liturgy for the service.
Ministers will not be compelled to conduct a marriage blessing “if to do so would offend their conscience”. If they refuse, they are not compelled to refer couples to another minister.
The first same-sex service is likely to occur in two weeks’ time. The retired diocesan archdeacon, the Revd Dr John Davis, and his partner of 20 years, the Revd Robert Whalley, are planning a civil marriage, to be blessed in a small country church in the diocese on 14 September.
The legislation is, however, expected to be referred to the Australian Church’s highest court, the Appellate Tribunal, by the Primate, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier. He has said that, after “appropriate advice”, he would refer the legislation to the tribunal to “assist the Anglican Church of Australia in the clarification of this issue, and put in place an orderly process by which the issue can be addressed”.
The Bishop of Wangaratta, the Rt Revd John Parkes, told the synod that his advice was that there was “no legal or theological reason for our not proceeding”. He had been advised that the synod was not in breach of the Constitution or Canons of the Church, and that he would not be in breach of his solemn oath to uphold them.
In his synod charge, he said that “the Bible, properly and critically read”, together with other “formative factors in theology . . . leads inextricably to the conclusion that loving monogamous faithful Christian persons ought to receive the blessing of God in their church to strengthen them for their lives as disciples”.
The Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies, issued a statement at the weekend condemning the decision, however. He said that the move would “certainly fracture the Anglican Church of Australia”.
“The doctrine of our Church is not determined by 67 members of a regional synod in Victoria, nor is it changed by what they may purport to authorise,” he said.