ANGLICAN clergy across Australia are free to "bless" civil same-sex marriages after the church's highest legal body endorsed proposals from the dioceses of Newcastle and Wangaratta in Victoria.
Newcastle Bishop Peter Stuart and the Dean of Newcastle, Reverend Katherine Bowyer, both welcomed the decision, although the bishop acknowledged the move was far from universally accepted within the diocese, both by clergy and congregation.
Despite opposition to the decision from the Sydney diocese - and turmoil across the Anglican church worldwide over same-sex marriage - the bishop did not think it would split the church.
"There are some very heated debates going on across the Anglican Church of Australia at the moment, but I don't think we will see it split," Bishop Stuart said.
"We are in tense rooms at the moment but I think we will find ways of working together."
The bishop said 75 of the diocese's 115 or so active and retired clergy took part in a five-hour meeting last Wednesday to discuss the decision and what it meant in practical terms.
"I have been told there are some clergy and some lay people who will leave the Anglican Church for other churches as a result of this decision," Bishop Stuart said.
"I am very sad about that and I don't want to see them go but I am also told there are others who will come and consider being part of the Anglican diocese because of this decision.
"I suppose every decision people react to it. I met with the clergy on Wednesday and encouraged them to be a community. And what is evident is that they are going to stay in this, with one another."
Bishop Stuart confirmed that two related decisions were announced by the church's Appellate Tribunal on November 11.
One gave Newcastle the "authority to amend its own "diocesan clergy discipline regime in relation to clergy who bless or are party to a same-sex marriage".
The other, made by the same six tribunal members, said that Wangaratta's proposed blessing service was "not inconsistent" with the church's constitution.
Both decisions were five to one verdicts, with the same tribunal member dissenting on both.
The opinions of the Appellate Tribunal came as a surprise. Across the nation there have been a range of reactions to this decision - joy and sadness, celebration and despair- Bishop Peter Stuart
Interviewed at the cathedral on Sunday, Bishop Stuart paid tribute to Dean Bowyer, who he said wrote the "private member's bill" that began the process when it was sent to the appellate tribunal in October last year.
Dean Bowyer said the tribunal decision "might seem like a small step, but it was certainly a very significant step".
"This is about recognising there is a real movement within the wider community," Dean Bowyer said.
"The church is about justice. Justice for everyone, and for our LGBTIQA+ brothers and sisters are people created in the image of god, as we are all created in the image of god."
Dean Bowyer had also asked "whether a member of the clergy could be married to someone of the same sex".
She said it was "possible" for an Anglican clergy to enter a same-sex civil marriage but the tribunal had advised "the church disciplinary processes" could not be bypassed.
"A member of the clergy who is contemplating entering a same-sex marriage needs to be aware that their life and their relationships may be subject to church disciplinary processes," Dean Bowyer said.
Bishop Stuart said the application to the tribunal came after the 2019 Newcastle synod, in which about 300 people took part, voting "about 60 per cent to 40 per cent" in favour.
In a pastoral letter last week, Bishop Stuart described the opinions of the tribunal as "a surprise" and reminded his readers of church debates over slavery and the ordination of women, in which people of "good will" had come to "completely opposing positions".
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