The 14th Assembly in 2015 resolved as follows:
15.15 Theology of Marriage Discussion
a) receive the report on 'The theology of marriage and same gender relationships within the Uniting Church';
b) request the Standing Committee, in consultation with the UAICC and Multicultural and Cross-cultural Ministry, to explore how the Uniting Church can engage in further discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships in culturally appropriate ways; and
c) request the Standing Committee to address immediately, through appropriate mechanisms, the following work:
(i) to engage with the continuing work of the Doctrine Working Group as outlined in its report to the 14th Assembly;
(ii) to engage with the members of the LGBTIQ community and the wider Church in discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships;
(iii) in consultation with the relevant Assembly working groups, to prepare a report to the Fifteenth Assembly with appropriate recommendations, as well as supporting theological, liturgical, pastoral and educational resources; and
(iv) in consultation with our ecumenical partners, where appropriate, to investigate the implications of changing the Church‟s current relationship with the Commonwealth Government with respect to the conduct of marriages.
d) request the President to issue a pastoral letter to the Church affirming that the Uniting Church in Australia seeks to be an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members of our Church community and is committed to active and culturally appropriate discussion about marriage; and
e) request the General Secretary, in the event that the Commonwealth Marriage Act or other relevant legislation is changed, to write to all Uniting Church marriage celebrants, advising them of their freedoms and constraints under that legislation and as celebrants authorised by the Uniting Church.
The resources below are offered to support this conversation.
The Space for Grace process may be useful in your discernment, as it offers the benefit of building mutual relationships and respectful contexts for theological reflection.
Doc.Byte on Marriage (Discussion starter from the Doctrine Working Group 2008)
Sexuality in the New Testament: Understanding the key texts, William Loader. (SPCK 2010) (available via Mediacom)
Marriage Discussions in the UCA – The steps so far
The discussions prior to the 13th Assembly (1980s-2012)
This conversation takes place in the context of long and sometimes challenging discernment on sexuality-related issues in the life of the Uniting Church since the 1980s. These previous discussions largely focussed on the ordination of people in same-gender relationships, rather than the issue of marriage. The Uniting Church has been willing to have such discussions and has endeavoured to do so with grace and respect towards one another.1
Uniting Church discussion on such issues is part of a wider community of discernment, namely the international and ecumenical context, in which many churches are seeking to respond in faith and obedience to new questions and challenges. Across the global church there have been, broadly speaking, three responses to the question of same-gender marriage: some churches have moved to broaden the definition of marriage to include same gender couples; some have retained marriage as a male-female covenant while developing covenants of blessing for same-gender monogamous partnerships, and other churches have decided to retain marriage as a male-female relationship and offer no recognised ceremonies of blessing for same-gender relationships. Each of these decisions has been made in good faith by churches within the worldwide fellowship of churches. These options – and some variations on them – are before the Uniting Church.
The decision of the 13th Assembly (2012)
A process of discernment was initiated by Minute 12.31 Discussion Paper on Marriage of the 13th Assembly which was in two parts.
Part (a) acknowledged that the current position on marriage was provided in the Eighth Assembly Minute 97.31.12. Part (b) requested the Doctrine Working Group to prepare a discussion paper on marriage and explore the implications for public covenants for same-gender relationships.
A comprehensive record of discussions prior to the 13th Assembly is presented in the paper by Rev. Dr Chris Walker Sexuality and Leadership – Documenting the History.
The process following the 13th Assembly (2012-2015)
Resources were prepared for a consultation process by the Doctrine Working Group, facilitators were trained, and a series of consultations were held, including with the UAICC and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) leaders. This resulted in the report Views on marriage in the Uniting Church – Report on a consultation process, 2013 which was sent to all groups named in the proposal and widely circulated throughout the councils of the Church.
Noting the findings of the 2013 consultation process, the Doctrine Working Group prepared a Marriage Discussion Paper and a response form, which was approved by the ASC for distribution. This resulted in a great deal of discussion during 2014. There were 438 responses submitted including individual, small group and large group responses, as well as responses from the Councils and agencies of the Church.
The Doctrine Working Group read all responses carefully. The Working Group kept the ASC informed as required.
A report was prepared for the November 2014 ASC meeting and recommendations prepared for the March 2015 ASC. ASC then brought a proposal to the 14th Assembly in 2015 titled Report to the Assembly on the theology of marriage and public covenants for same-gender relationships within the Uniting Church. It provided the background, the process since the 13th Assembly, the approach of the Doctrine Working Group, key themes in the responses and suggested areas for further work.
The 14th Assembly (2015)
The DWG reported to the 14th Assembly requesting a further triennium to continue its work of study, consultation and theological reflection with regard to a number of areas.
The outcome of the discussion at the 14th Assembly, Minute 15.15 Theology of Marriage Discussion:
was to receive the report and ask that further work be done, including considering whether, after addressing various theological issues, the UCA should maintain the existing definition of marriage or not.
The process following the 14th Assembly (2015-2017)
As requested by the 14th Assembly, President Stuart McMillan issued a pastoral letter to the Church affirming that the Uniting Church in Australia seeks to be an inclusive Church that embraces LGBTIQ people as full members of our Church community and is committed to active and culturally appropriate discussion about marriage.
At the November 2015 Assembly Standing Committee the President was asked to initiate the exploration of how the UCA can engage in the further discussions about marriage and same-gender relationships in culturally appropriate ways as requested in the Assembly Minutes by using the Space for Grace process. This was done and two sessions were held in 2017. The comments from the sessions were provided to the Doctrine Working Group.
The Doctrine Working Group had members attend some conferences around the Uniting Church where they had conversations about marriage. This all informed the report they have been carefully developing for the ASC. A report will go to the November 2017 ASC who will bring a report and proposals to the 15th Assembly in July 2018.