SAME SEX MARRIAGES: UNDERSTANDING WHERE MARRIAGE OFFICERS STAND
The issue of same sex marriages is a sensitive and emotional issue. It’s of the utmost importance that marriage officers don’t get involved in moral or theological arguments when asked to perform same sex marriages. In my experience as counselor and pastor, a debate on the merit of the issue will often only result in anger and judgement, or hurt and rejection.
I trust that the following will help to bring some clarity and acceptance to all.
In S.A. today, marriage officers are registered under the law either via 1) a church with Home Affairs or 2) directly with the Home Affairs without any religious organisation as facilitator.
1. "Church" marriage officers
“Church”marriage officers (which is traditionally the case) act on behalf of their church and not in their own capacity. They represent - in law - their church. By state law:
· No individual can apply to take the qualifying exam and be registered as marriage officer. Only the admin officer of a church is allowed to apply on behalf of a candidate to take the exam. The exam is offered and regulated by Home Affairs.
· A candidate proposed by a church has to be (and stay) a member of that church to get and also keep his or her license as marriage officer. (This is regularly checked by the state)
· The status of his or her license is handled between the church administrator and Home Affairs. In other words, the church can withdraw the subscription of a marriage officer and then the state, in response, will cancel his license. The individual marriage officer has no say that matters in whether he or she stays registered.
Most marriage officers today (as was the case for many years) have their accreditation via the church under the traditional Marriage Act, which is still in place and active.
This all means that the individual "church" marriage officer’s (like "pastors" etc.) personal opinion on this matter is immaterial and not relevant. If the church does not allow or does not sanction same sex marriages, the church marriage officer cannot do this. Acting contrary to the doctrine and policy of his church (also his employer) will result in him losing his license - in which case he can’t marry anyone, in any case.
Only if the church he represents permits same sex marriages, his own stance on the issue comes into play. In S.A. by far the most pastors cannot perform same sex marriages. The question to ask would therefore not be “Do YOU perform....?”, but “Does YOUR CHURCH PERMIT same sex marriages?” That would lead to a simple “no” or “yes”, after which there should be no debate or argument.
2. State marriage officers
The state has recognized that there’s a need in modern society for same sex couples to get married (although the legal term is to enter into a civil union) and the state has done so by introducing the “Civil Union Act.” This allows candidates to apply (complying to certain conditions) to take the marriage officer exam directly at Home Affairs, without the approval or oversight of any church. Such marriage officers, who are registered under the Civil Union Act, HAVE to marry all law qualifying couples, without the option of refusal. Found guilty of refusing to do so will lead to the cancellation of their license. In this way the state accommodates both the churches, with their traditional (or non-traditional) viewpoints AND the need for same sex marriages in society. It separates the domains of state and church, which is the way most modern, secular states handle this issue.