Gay sticker: not for all churches

RNW archive

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It’s a kind of Michelin guide for gay people who want a church wedding. Same-sex marriage may be accepted by Dutch legislation, but it's not accepted by the majority of Dutch churches. Coming Out Churches, Dutch Edition gives an overview of those churches that are open to same-sex marriages.

Churches that agree to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples receive a ‘This is a Coming Out Church’ sticker. In addition to the addresses of gay-friendly churches, the guide also includes interviews with key gay rights figures.

“We hope to provide an image of developments in the church scene over the past few decades. There has been a group of people fighting for lesbian and gay rights,” says co-author Tom Mikkers.

Mr Mikkers is the secretary of the Remonstrant Brotherhood, a liberal church which sees same-sex marriage as equal to its heterosexual counterpart. He wrote the guide together with Wielie Elhorst who has made a study of issues involving church and sexuality. Mr Mikkers believes rather surprisingly that the acceptation of gay people was set in motion by the churches themselves.

“It’s a fact that gay emancipation received a very important boost from the churches in the 1950s and 1960s. Pastors stood up and said homosexuals – as they were called back then – should be treated with compassion. They were not yet talking about marriage, they weren’t ready for that. Gay people were on the list of ‘groups you should look after,’ which included prisoners, the disabled and the mentally ill.”

Out of the closet
At present, there are a number of churches which recognise same-sex marriage. In addition to the Remonstrant Brotherhood, there are the Mennonites, the Apostolic Church and the NPB (Free-Thinking Community of Faith or ‘Vrijzinnige Geloofsgemeenschap’ in Dutch). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has an ‘arrangement’ regarding same-sex marriage, but does not recognise it as on a par with traditional marriage. A number of other churches have similar arrangements.

The Moravian Church is one which faces a dilemma. As a result of being part of a global network, the church has no choice but to abide by international agreements, which clearly state the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. Christoph Reichel chairs the provincial executive of the Moravian Church in the Netherlands:

“On the other hand, we also feel the pressure from our members for more acceptance. We can act on a pastoral level, show respect and engage in dialogue, but we cannot take further steps such as performing wedding ceremonies or church services to consecrate same-sex partnerships.”

In the closet
The guide devotes a separate chapter to the Roman Catholic Church under the heading, Still in the closet. The Catholic Church does not recognise same-sex marriage, but Mr Mikkers says it goes on unofficially on a small scale.

“A number of priests and monastic communities are willing to perform same-sex marriages, and ceremonies do take place occasionally. I have been in touch with parishes where it’s happened, but they did not want to be listed in the guide – they didn’t want to come out of the closet. I don’t expect the Roman Catholic Church to change any time soon, the leadership is not moving at all at present, the Pope and bishops are dead against it. But it’s amusing to note that the faithful are a long way away from where the leadership wants them to be.”

Dutch Edition
Mr Mikkers explains that the guide is called the ‘Dutch Edition’ for a reason:

“Because the subject matter is not exclusive to the Netherlands, it’s also an issue in other countries, where the debate is sometimes even more heated. Think about Spain, where hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demonstrate against same-sex marriages.”

Ukraine is another country where people are fiercely opposed to same-sex marriage. One month ago, a patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church anathematised the Dutch Protestant Church and the Old Catholic Church in the Netherlands:

“That is really mediaeval, it means that those people can rot in hell. So it’s a really contentious issue. I hope the book gets picked up by people abroad, and that a Romanian or Spanish edition gets to be published.”