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08/10/2014

St Andrew's to defy ban on conducting gay weddings

A Wellington church says a national directive from its highest body banning ministers from conducting same-sex marriages is appalling and disturbing and it will defy the order.

St Andrew's on The Terrace opposes the decision by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

The General Assembly - which sets the policy and the direction of the church and approves the various regulations - spent the past four days deliberating in Auckland and announced its decision yesterday.

In the eyes of the assembly, it was acceptable for gay and lesbian people to be in the congregation but not to be married by the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Marriage was the loving and faithful union of a man and a woman, the assembly said.

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St Andrew's Parish convener Sonia Groes-Petrie said the ban was disturbing and deeply disappointing.

"We strongly dissent from it," she said. "The Presbyterian tradition is for ministers to have freedom to make decisions about whom they will marry.

"There is a range of opinions on same-sex marriage within the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand and today's decision does not reflect that diversity."

Interim minister Jim Cunningham said he was appalled by the decision. "We see sexual orientation and gender identity as irrelevant in the celebration of a couple's union. It is the quality of the relationship, the love and commitment that matters," he said.

"St Andrew's has been blessing the relationships of same- sex couples for over 20 years, celebrating civil unions since 2005 and marriages since August last year."

St Andrew's Parish councillor and General Assembly representative Paul Barber, who was in Auckland, said it was embarrassing that religious organisations were the only stumbling block to full equality for same-sex couples.

Despite the order, St Andrew's had committed to be an inclusive church, faithful to the gospel message of love and justice, Barber said.

"We have ministers within our community who are registered as civil celebrants and we will continue to be able to provide a welcoming place for any couple who wishes to marry," he said.

Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand General Assembly Moderator the Right Rev Andrew Norton said the decision was an affirmation of the church's long-held understanding of marriage as the loving, faithful union of a man and a woman. No other type of contractual, covenantal or legal sexual relationship - no matter how loving, stable or sincere - could ever be regarded by the Christian church as marriage in the true biblical sense.

No immediate action would be taken against St Andrew's but if there was a complaint it would step in.

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