PRETORIA – A landmark vote means same sex relationships will now be recognised by the Dutch Reformed Church.
It's also voted in favour of ordaining gay ministers and scrapping a so-called celibacy clause.
With a 64 percent majority, the church voted in favour of acknowledging same sex unions and allowing gay ministers to be ordained without the need for them to be celibate.
The church said the move was a step in the right direction for human dignity.
Dutch Reform Church moderator Nelis Janse van Rensburg said: “It is historical because with this decision we actually are at a point where there can be no doubt that the Dutch Reformed Church is serious about human dignity.
"And you know that we are living in this country where we have so many problems with the dignity of people.”
But while the decision's been hailed, individual churches won't be forced to follow the ruling.
“Church councils and congregations are like families. They will eventually decide that how they will go about it. They know the context, they know the situation, they know about the faith of these people, so they can decide on that.”
The church will also help ministers to get the necessary legal documentation to ratify civil unions.
“The pastors who will legitimise these relationships have to be licensed by the state and we will in due course now start liaising with the state to make that possible for these pastors who are actually willing to become commissioners of same-sex relationships,” Van Rensburg said.
“The church has stated that while its decision will impact (on) churches here, it does not extend to its synod in Namibia, whose laws don’t recognise same-sex relationships.”