By Mark Michael

The Diocese of Wangaratta, in rural Southeastern Australia will vote on allowing same-sex marriage at its August 30-31 synod, with the full support of its bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Parkes. Parkes, who will retire from his ministry after the synod concludes, told the Australian Broadcasting Company that he believes the change has wide support in the diocese. He said he is also prepared to officiate at same-sex marriages himself and to be disciplined by the Anglican Church of Australia for his convictions.

“We’ve been frozen on the issue of same-sex couples now for many years — 25 years or more,” Parkes said, “If somebody doesn’t do something we’ll continue to be frozen, and the people who really suffer of course are LGBTQIA people, and particularly young people.” Parkes continued, “So I think somebody has to break the deadlock and it might as well be me.”

Parkes has been a vocal supporter of same-sex marriages for several years, and last summer’s Wangaratta diocesan synod voted to commend the preparation of rites by the bishop for blessing same-sex civil unions. In 2012 and 2013, the Diocese of Perth voted to call for legal acknowledgement of same-sex marriages, but the resolutions were vetoed both times by then-Archbishop Roger Herft.

The Anglican Church of Australia reaffirmed its commitment to a traditional understanding of marriage at its last General Synod, in 2017, resolving that “the doctrine of our church, in line with traditional Christian teaching, is that marriage is an exclusive and lifelong union of a man and a woman.”

The synod also expressed regret for the then-recent decision of the Scottish Episcopal Church to bless same-sex marriages, describing the action as “contrary to the doctrine of our Church and the teaching of Christ.” In the same motion, the synod expressed “our support for those Anglicans who have left or will need to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church because of its redefinition of marriage,” and said it “prays that the Scottish Episcopal Church will return to the doctrine of Christ in this matter and be restored to communion with the Anglican Church of Australia.”

Same-sex marriage became legal in Australia by act of Parliament in December 2017. The decision came after a public referendum on the subject by postal survey earlier that year. The conservative Diocese of Sydney contributed a million Australian dollars ($675,000 USD) to an ecumenical campaign urging people to vote against the change.

The Melbourne Anglican reported in May, 2018 that the Anglican Church of Australia’s bishops had secretly met several months earlier to determine a common way forward about how to handle the issue in the face of divergent views. The bishops committed to using discernment materials prepared by the church’s Doctrine Commission and “to resist simple solutions or courses of action.”

In their March 2018 agreement, the bishops stated,  “if we as a church are to change this doctrine to permit same-sex marriage, the appropriate mechanism is through the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church of Australia. Bishops should give leadership in demonstrating trust in this framework as the way to move forward together, recognizing that this will require care, patience, and generosity. The bishops commit to working together to manifest and maintain unity, as we together discern the truth.”

Archbishop Philip Freier of Melbourne, who has jurisdiction over the Diocese of Wangaratta, expressed concern about Parkes’s very public resolve to violate this agreement in an online statement. Freier, who is also the primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, described the Wangaratta legislation as “a significant matter for the national Church and, on my present advice, [it] would likely give rise to a question under the Constitution on which minds will differ.” He indicated if the resolution were approved by the diocesan synod, he would refer it to an appellate tribunal set up by the General Synod.  This would, Freier said, “assist the Anglican Church of Australia in the clarification of this issue and put in place an orderly process by which the issue can be addressed.”