By Leila Samodien

The Dutch Reformed Church has become the fifth major church group to reject gay marriages after its general assembly finally reached a decision on the controversial issue.

The national synod has met all week to discuss various issues.

In what became a five-hour discussion about homosexuality yesterday, the DRC synod agreed that marriages would only be recognised if they were be-tween a man and a woman.

The church follows in the footsteps of the Anglican, Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches, all of which have barred gay marriages.

The decision came despite a petition signed by 500 people, including ministers and academics, supporting equal rights for gays.

However, for former DRC minister Laurie Gaum, who was dismissed two years ago after he revealed he was gay, the decision-making process has also brought liberating news.

Gaum has spent the last couple of years appealing his dismissal but found yesterday that the synod had made an undertaking to allow homosexuals to take up the office of a minister within the church.

He can, therefore, be re-instated.

But this conclusion did not come without a catch.

The church spokesperson, the Reverend Johann Symington, said gays would only be accepted as ministers if they took a vow of celibacy.

"On the issue of homosexuality as a whole, we found that gay people cannot be blamed for being born homosexual and that they should be treated with the same respect and dignity as every other person should," he said.

While Gaum was pleased with the decision, he said that he felt a "mixed bag" of emotions.

"I feel relieved and excited. I also see it as a positive sign because my appeal has finally been granted.

"The church is moving in the right direction but I am cautiously optimistic about the decision - they still have a long way to go in terms of homosexuality," he said.

Gaum has since moved on to a spirituality centre that tackles social justice issues. He said that while he had won a small victory, he was uncertain of whether he would return to the church.

"I will definitely consider my options but will probably not go back to a congregational ministry.

"I think my ministry has grown much broader," he added.

The general assembly, which was attended by gay people and supporters of the new Civil Union Act, is due to draw to a close on Friday.

The Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) has also rejected gay marriages.

"While the MJC understands that everyone has the right to their own choices, Muslim law recognises marriages as being uniquely between a male and female," said MJC spokesperson Moulana Abdul Fattaag Carr.

Meanwhile, one Jewish organisation has welcomed the act, which was implemented on November 30 last year.

The SA Union for Progressive Judaism has announced that it recognises gay marriages in the same way as it does those between heterosexuals.