Members of the Uniting Church have confirmed that Australia’s third largest religious denomination will debate whether to accept same-sex marriages at its National Assembly in July, confirming the fears of conservatives in that church.

Paddington Uniting Church mission development manager Justin Whelan yesterday told the Senate inquiry into Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s marriage equality bill that he, as a heterosexual married and devout Christian, had no problems with marriage equality, but said it was important to state that that position was not yet shared by the Uniting Church as a whole.

“We do need to clarify that our position at Paddington is not the national position of the Uniting Church,” Whelan said.

“It is also true to say that the Uniting Church is about to debate this issue at its July national assembly and there is a possibility that the Uniting Church view will change because the Uniting Church holds an openness to the leading of the holy spirit in its concern on these issues.”

The congregation of Paddington Uniting Church voted unanimously in favour of a resolution supporting marriage equality in November last year.

The Star Observer reported in March that the Rev Dr Max Champion who heads the anti-gay Assembly of Confessing Congregations group within the Uniting Church believes the church will allow “sacred union ceremonies” to join same-sex couples following its next National Convention.

The United Church of Canada already celebrates same-sex marriages, although it allows dissenting congregations to refrain from doing so.

Champion also spoke at the Senate hearing and warned that same-sex marriage could lead to disharmony among indigenous and migrant communities that opposed it.

“Many people in these groups cannot and will not even talk about these issues because they defy the clear evidence of nature as they see it,” Champion told senators.

“Likewise with indigenous Australians – same-sex relations are taboo.

“What will be the impact overall on social, religious and cultural harmony if the Australian Parliament legalises marriage between same-sex partners. The possibility of widespread social dislocation shouldn’t be underestimated in the long term.”

If the Uniting Church were to adopt same-sex marriage it would join the Metropolitan Community Church, the Quakers, Australian Buddhists and Progressive Jews as religious denominations that support marriage equality and would be the largest single denomination to do so to date.

Previous polling has found that 53 percent of Australian Christians support marriage equality.

The Sydney hearing adjourned at 4pm. The Melbourne hearing will begin today in the Melbourne Town Hall at 9.30am.

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