Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) - Stung by a recent court ruling in favor of same-sex "marriage," Christian leaders in South Africa are calling for a national referendum on the controversial issue.
They argue that homosexuality not only contravenes the Bible, but also is rejected by a majority of South Africans.
South Africa's Supreme Court recently ruled that the common-law definition of marriage, which excludes homosexuals and lesbians, contravened the country's ultra-liberal constitution.
The ruling followed an appeal by a lesbian couple who wanted their union to be legally recognized.
The South African Christian Leadership Assembly (Sacla), an umbrella organization of 30 church groups, said the decision to legalize same-sex "marriage" could not be left to the courts because all South Africans would be affected by the decision.
"Before that decision can be contemplated, a referendum should be held," it said in a statement.
Sacla said although it believed in reaching out in love and acceptance to homosexuals, "a society cannot afford to adopt laws that are in conflict with God's law and writings of all major religions."
In an open letter, Sacla co-convener and evangelical leader Michael Cassidy said that same-sex "marriage" also goes against the majority view of South Africans.
He cited a major survey of social attitudes, carried out by the country's Human Sciences Research Council and released last October, which found that some 80 percent of all adults believe sexual relationships between people of the same sex were "always wrong."
"This is the democratic voice and moral view of the nation and it should not be changed or altered without a full national debate and certainly not at the instigation of a minuscule minority," Cassidy said.
"As Christians we cannot accept this and do not intend to do so."
The South Africa Council of Churches' response to the court ruling, however, illustrated differences on the issue among those calling identifying themselves as Christians.
Council general secretary Molefe Tsele said Christian leaders should respond "cautiously" to the decision because Christianity's core teachings do "not explicitly prohibit validation [of] faithful, loving same-sex relationships."
Tsele said the council - an affiliate of the World Council of Churches - did not want to align itself with "such selective and simplistic interpretations of scripture, especially in the light of the Gospel's central emphasis on Christ's equal love and concern for all God's children and his particular compassion for the poor and marginalized."
South African common law defined marriage as "the union of one man and one woman."
Although this has now been changed to read "the union of two persons to the exclusion of all others for life," legal experts said same-sex "marriage" would not be legal until other marriage-related laws were also amended.
A new constitution enacted in 1996 - hailed by supporters as the world's most liberal - enshrined "equal rights" to citizens regardless of sexual orientation, covering areas such as child adoption, decriminalizing sex between men, and protecting and recognizing same-sex partnerships and families.
South Africa's parliament has passed more than 30 laws relating to homosexuals, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people.
Elsewhere in Africa, homosexuality still is widely frowned upon. More than 20 countries on the continent have some form of legislation banning same-sex relationships.
Last October, Anglican (Episcopalian) leaders in Africa announced the church would no longer send priests for training in the U.S. and Europe, to prevent them from being exposed to a theology that condones homosexuality.
The move was prompted by last years' decision by the Episcopalian diocese of New Hampshire to ordain a homosexual as bishop, and a move by the denomination in Canada to approve same-sex "marriage."
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