Blessing same sex marriages in the Anglican Church in Australia

The question as to whether same sex marriages entered into under Australian civil law can be blessed in an Anglican Church service is one that has generated much disagreement within the church. An important Opinion of the Appellate Tribunal of the Anglican Church of Australia in relation to a question posed by the Diocese of Wangaratta (Primate’s References re Wangaratta Blessing Service, 11 Nov 2020) held that it is lawful for a diocese to approve such a formal blessing. I have now contributed a chapter to a book of essays prepared for the consideration of the forthcoming General Synod discussing the issue, analysing the Majority Opinion and its implications. The chapter is available for download here, for those who are interested. I conclude, in brief, that as a matter of internal Anglican doctrine, the decision is contrary to the “doctrine of the Church”, which finds its ultimate source in the Bible. The Majority Opinion takes a too narrow view of the word “doctrine”, in my view. I suggest that this may have consequences outside the church:

unfortunately the narrow view taken by the Majority Opinion of the Appellate Tribunal may encourage a narrow view of the word to be taken by [secular] courts in the future, with the result that clauses protecting religious freedom may be unduly read down.

At p 47.

From the perspective of the general law of Australia, a church which declined to bless a same sex marriage might be accused of “sexual orientation” discrimination if they would offer such a blessing to a heterosexual couple. But balancing clauses under discrimination law would seem to have the effect that such a decision would not amount to unlawful discrimination, if the decision was:

(d) [an] act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.

Section 56, Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW)

(See also the similar provision in s 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).)

It seems to me to be fairly clear that the “doctrines” of the Anglican Church would prevent the blessing of a same sex marriage. Indeed, the General Synod of the church said as much in a 2017 resolution:

the doctrine of our church, in line with traditional Christian teaching, is that marriage is an exclusive and lifelong union of a man and a woman (emphasis added)

See ‘MARRIAGE, SAME-SEX MARRIAGE AND THE BLESSING OF SAME-SEX RELATIONSHIPS’, adopted 7 Sept, 2017, at https://anglican.org.au/the-general-synod/search-resolutions-of-gs-sessions/?sid=2827  

But the Majority Opinion of the Appellate Tribunal might cast some doubt on that proposition, and as a result needs urgent consideration by the next General Synod.

ANGLICAN CANON LAW: IDENTITY, ECCLESIOLOGY AND ECUMENISM

Professor Mark Hill, QC, one of the world’s leading “law and religion” scholars, delivered the 2nd Sharwood Lecture in Church Law in Sydney and Melbourne in February 2019. He and the organisers have kindly agreed to my providing a copy of the text of the lecture for readers of this blog. The lecture deals with the structure of the Anglican communion, and questions to do with Anglican Canon Law (the internal law of Anglicanism).

The Abstract of the lecture:

One of the unusual features of the Anglican Communion is the manner in which its component provinces (including the Anglican Church of Australia) are autonomous yet at the same time remain in communion one with another and with the See of Canterbury. Emerging as an additional ‘instrument of unity’ for the Communion are identifiable Principles of Anglican Canon Law, drawn from common features of the particular laws of each province. These contribute to the self-understanding of Anglican identity and have a significance in terms of the ecclesiology of the Communion and its constituent parts. The 2019 Sharwood Lecture addresses how the Principles of Anglican Canon Law and a subsequent Statement of Christian Law provide a fruitful subject for study as a form of applied ecclesiology, and bring vision and vitality to the ecumenical endeavour.

The lecture can be downloaded here: