South African court weighs claim of gay discrimination from defrocked minister

South Africa’s Constitutional Court heard oral arguments last month on a case pitting the right of a church to order its internal affairs against gay rights. On 28 August 2015 the court heard and reserved judgment in the case of de Lange v the Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of South Africa. The petitioner had been ordained a Methodist minister in 2004 and was serving two congregations in Cape Town. Ms de Lange argued the church had always known of her sexual orientation and that her partner had lived with her in the parsonage from the start of her ministry. However when she married her partner in 2009 she was suspended and after a hearing in 2010 was removed from the ordained ministry. Ms. de Lange entered a church run arbitration process to appeal her dismissal, but also filed suit in the civil courts seeking reinstatement. However, the High Court found that her failure to follow the arbitration process prevented her from seeking civil redress. The Supreme Court of South Africa agreed, prompting Ms de Lange to file an appeal to the Constitutional Court asking it to set aside the arbitration agreement, declare that she was unfairly discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation, and reinstate her as a minister of the Church. The Methodist Church responded that it believes that marriage is a divinely-ordained lifelong union of one man and one woman, and that any other understanding of marriage is incompatible with the Scriptures and with Church doctrine. Forcing it to reinstate a minister who professes beliefs not in conformance with church teaching would violate the right to freedom of religion the church argued.

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