The Sydney Anglican diocese has voted to ban same-sex weddings from any Anglican church or building, and prohibit its properties from being used to promote homosexuality or “transgender ideology”.  Critics within the church say the policy could stop pastors and teachers from speaking in favour of marriage equality, and stifle student-led LGBTI support groups at Anglican schools.  The Church sees the current debate about its right to fire gay teachers as a “key threat” to its ability to foster a Christian ethos at its schools.  The 51st Synod of the Sydney diocese voted to introduce the property policy to ensure church-owned buildings are used only for “acts or practices which conform to the doctrines, tenets and beliefs of the diocese”.

The policy specifies it would be inappropriate to use church-owned property for “advocacy for transgender ideology (e.g gender-fluidity)” and “advocacy for expressions of human sexuality contrary to our doctrine of marriage”.  It also bans local Anglican boards from allowing property, such as school halls, to host same-sex marriages or receptions associated with same-sex weddings.  Under Archbishop Glenn Davies, the conservative Sydney diocese of the Anglican church was one of the key forces opposed to same-sex marriage, donating $1 million to the “No” campaign last year.

Bishop of South Sydney Michael Stead, the senior clergyman who authored the proposal, said that the use of church property had “always been governed by various regulations” and the new policy merely sought to consolidate those into a single document.  “The new policy doesn’t represent a change in our position and I wouldn’t expect it to have an effect on any activities currently occurring on church trust property,” he said.  “Because the federal government has changed its definition of marriage, the policy makes clear the church’s doctrine of marriage has not changed and that property use scenarios relate only to man/woman marriage.”

Bishop Stead’s report noted “man-woman marriage” was not explicitly defined as a tenet of the Sydney Anglican church, and it would be “prudent” to do so in order to harness the power granted to the church through exemptions to NSW anti-discrimination laws.  “A key threat to maintaining the Christian ethos of our Anglican institutions is in relation to the employment of Christian staff,” he noted.   The Ruddock review of religious freedom, which is currently before Federal Parliament, urges new laws to “make it clear” religious schools are not required to provide their facilities for any marriage providing the refusal conforms to the tenets of their religion.

Mr Ruddock also recommends schools retain their right to hire and fire teachers on the basis of their sexuality, provided they have a written policy on the matter.  However, Labor, and some Liberals, are seeking to propose removing that right altogether.  The government intends to remove religious schools’ right to discriminate against gay students a policy that is supported by the Labor Opposition.  Bishop Stead said the bill was intended primarily as a necessary protection against being accused of, or sued for, discrimination under anti-discrimination legislation in a world he described as increasingly at odds with the conservative Christian world view.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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