Laurie Gaum Picture: Bongani Shilubane/African News Agency (ANA)

Pretoria - In a victory for people in same-sex relationships and who are members of the Dutch Reformed Church, the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on Friday morning overturned the church’s decision not to recognise same-sex unions within the church.

A full bench, lead by Judge Joseph Raulinga, overturned the decision on same-sex relationships adopted during the extraordinary meeting of the General Synod of the church in November 206.

During this sitting, the church went back on its earlier stance of allowing same-sex unions.

The church made headlines when it in 2015 announced that its various congregations could decide for themselves if they wanted to give their blessing to same-sex unions. 

A year later, following a lot of pressure from some of its members, it announced that a gay or lesbian person can only be a minister if he or she is celibate. Ministers were also no longer able to solemnise same-sex civil unions.

Laurie Gaum, with the blessing of his father, Dr Frits Gaum, a well-known figure in the church, launched the application. 

He challenged the church’s decision to go back on its word regarding same-sex unions.

Advocate Schalk Burger SC, for the church, earlier argued that this decision was not taken lightly. He said that since 2004 its general synod confirmed its stance against gay unions in the church. It changed its stance in 2015, but due to a lot of opposition from its members, it decided to revert back to its previous stance.

Gaum stance is that through this “flawed” decision-making process and its outcome, the church and the synod have infringed the right to religion itself and they have imposed their religious beliefs on others.

The result, Gaum said, is severe emotional and spiritual harm, culminating in deep human suffering.

He said the effect of the 2016 decision was to preclude members of the gay and lesbian community from concluding civil partnerships - which Parliament has provided by law for all South Africans -  in their own church.

The court handed down a 56-page judgment, which Judge Raulinga jokingly remarked when handed down, that it “makes good reading.”

The practical effect of the order is that the Dutch Reformed church will be able to conduct same-sex marriages once they have obtained a licence from Home Affairs in this regard.

The judgment also enables gay or lesbian members who are in a same-sex relationship to become ministers of the church.

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