Australian PM backs church which cancelled wedding of couple who posted Facebook support for same-sex marriage

People carry banners and signs as they participate in a marriage equality march in Melbourne, Australia, August 26, 2017.Reuters

The Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has defended a church that cancelled the wedding of a local coupleafter they posted their support for same-sex marriage on Facebook.

The couple in their 20s, who have not been named, were to be married at the Presbyterian church of Ebenezer St John's in Ballarat, Victoria, according to Fairfax media.

Days after Turnbull announced the forthcoming national postal survey on same sex marriage in August, the young woman posted her support for the law change. She and her fiance were then reportedly told by the minister, Steven North, that he would no longer marry them or allow the ceremony to be held in the church.

He reportedly wrote in a letter to the couple: 'After the premarital counselling that you attended and the sermons delivered at Ebenezer on this subject, you must surely appreciate that your commitment to same-sex marriage opposes the teaching of Christ Jesus and the scriptural position practiced by the Presbyterian church of Australia and by me.

'By continuing to officiate it would appear either that I support your views on same-sex marriage or that I am uncaring about this matter. As you know, neither statement is correct.

'Also, if the wedding proceeded in the Ebenezer St John's church buildings, the same inferences could be drawn about the Presbyterian denomination. Such inferences would be wrong."

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said that he had assumed that 'we would have moved beyond that sort of prejudice'.

But Turnbull defended the minister, saying: 'Churches are entitled to marry or not marry whom they please. That is part of religious freedom. My own church, the Catholic church, will not marry someone who has married before.'

The couple, who had attended the church for 10 years, told North that his decision was 'disgraceful' according to Fairfax.

'You were made aware from the beginning of our proceedings that we had gay friends and also that people in our wedding party were gay,' they said. 'How could you assume that we would abandon them or degrade them with regards to same-sex marriage?"

The moderator general of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, John Wilson, said in a statement it was a local church matter.

He told Guardian Australia: 'Within the Presbyterian church of Australia, the question of accepting requests to officiate at weddings is a discretionary matter for ministers of congregations, and not something that is directed from higher places or central offices of the church.

'The minister engages with the people concerned, counsels them, builds relationships with them, and then taking all this into consideration decides to accept or not.'