Why does Sydney Star Observer report on religious issues? Partly because in August 2003 the Pope asked politicians to oppose gay rights, and two days later the federal government announced an inquiry into marriage.

And so, 2004 proved a tumultuous year for gay people across a number of denominations, but much of the focus fell on the Anglican split.

Episcopalians (or American Anglicans) spent the year deciding whether the church should divide into two camps: the existing institution, which had consecrated an openly gay bishop (Reverend V. Gene Robinson) in November 2003, or a more conservative evangelical wing.

In January 2004 conservative Episcopalians in the US formed their own splinter group, as did a number of African churches. The Australian Anglican Church voted against blessing their homosexual clergy and flock, prompting Rev. Dr Elizabeth Smith to call for more gay and lesbian Anglicans to speak out for their rights.

By October the Windsor Report offered an official salve, recommending the American Church apologise for ordaining Bishop Robinson, but condemning the demonisation of homosexuality.

Few were impressed, especially the African Anglican Church, who gave the Americans until February to repent or they would create their own denomination.

The Catholic Church also had a busy year, thanks to a surprisingly vocal Pope.

In January John Paul II condemned representations of homosexuality on TV, declaring that uncritical depictions were detrimental to the good of society.

By August it was feminism’s fault, with the Pope blaming women’s lib for dissolving the differences between the sexes, therefore making heterosexuality and homosexuality virtually equivalent.

Dorothy McRae-McMahon wasn’t having a bar of it. The former Uniting Church minister released her autobiography this year, and wrote: I do not believe in a God who mocks us by creating us differently and then saying to us that we should not express that difference. Nor do I believe in a God who mocks us by telling us that what we experience as beautiful and genuinely life-giving is a sin.

The final word, however, goes to out lesbian Muslim Irshad Manji, who told the Star in September that, at least in other faiths, these issues are being openly debated.

It’s really the triumph of imitation over innovation that has contributed in great measure to the intellectual crisis in which Islam finds itself now, Manji said.

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