Gay Christians hope for church acceptance
by Georgia Wilkins, The Age, June 29, 2012
LIKE four in ten same-sex couples, James Nevein, 49, and David Witte, 50, identify themselves as Christians.
They are part of a statistic that strikes at the heart of the debate around same-sex marriage, and one that many hope will validate them in the eyes of the church.
At the 2011 census, Christianity was the number one religion among gay and lesbian couples – with 40 per cent of couples practising the faith compared to 60 per cent of opposite-sex couples.
Forty-eight per cent declared no religion, compared to 20 per cent of opposite-sex couples. Buddhism was the second most common among same-sex couples, at 4 per cent compared to 2.6 per cent of opposite-sex couples.
The census data was released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics yesterday as part of a report into the lives of people living in gay and lesbian relationships.
Mr Nevein, who is on the board of Freedom2b, a support group for gay people from Christian backgrounds, said it was evidence that he and members of the same-sex Christian community were not in a minority. ''In every church, from the Pentecostal to the Quakers, there are gay and lesbian people there,'' he said. ''Churches are going to have to consider this issue.''
He said churches needed to acknowledge their existence in order to prevent same-sex couples from feeling alienated.
''Why would you identify with an organisation that, for most of the last 2000 years has hated you, either openly or silently, unless you had a very deep sense of belonging?
''The church has a lot to answer for, but there is also a lot of hope.''
Across Australia, 1338 of 33,714 same-sex couples reported their relationship as being of husband or wife. In Victoria, there were 403 married same-sex couples and 8319 couples who reported their relationship as de facto.
Reverend Carolyn Francis, who preaches at Collins Street Baptist Church, said churches needed to consider the size of the same-sex Christian community in the debate over gay marriage. ''The reality is that people don't lose any of their yearning for spirituality when they grapple with their sexuality. In fact, probably the opposite is true,'' she said.
''The census figures are a stark representation and a reminder to us all that when we are discussing issues like gay marriage, we are talking about people's lives.''
Australian Marriage Equality national convener, Alex Greenwich said the census data made the exclusion of gays and lesbians from marriage look increasingly outdated.
''The number of self-reporting same-sex couples is increasing as more couples feel able to be open about their relationship. We are also participating more in community and family life with … a growing proportion of us reporting that we are people of faith.''
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