Church of England bishops refuse to back gay marriage

Bishops resist change that would allow clergy to marry same-sex couples but propose civil marriages can be blessed in church

The Church of England has rejected demands to allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages but is proposing that couples who married in a civil ceremony may have their union blessed in church.

The C of E released “historic plans” on Wednesday outlining a proposed way forward after decades of bitter and anguished division over sexuality. The proposal, endorsed by bishops this week, will be put to the C of E’s governing body, the General Synod, next month.

But the church will not change its existing doctrine, that marriage can be only between a man and a woman. Blessings for civil marriages will be voluntary for clergy, allowing those theologically opposed to opt out.

The C of E said it would “offer the fullest possible pastoral provision without changing the church’s doctrine of holy matrimony”. Same-sex couples would still be barred from getting married in a C of E church, but could have a service in which there would be prayers of dedication, thanksgiving or for God’s blessing on the couple in church following a civil marriage or partnership, it said.

Stephen Cottrell, the archbishop of York, said the proposal was a “real step forward, something really important”. It was “not the end of [the] journey but we have reached a milestone”.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “For the first time, people in same-sex [civil] marriages, in civil partnerships, can come to the church for their relationships to be acknowledged, dedicated, and they can receive God’s blessing.”

He acknowledged that it fell short of same-sex marriage. “It’s not everything that everybody wants.” Same -sex marriage would require a change to canon law, for which there was not a majority, he said. “This is a pastoral not a legislative way forward.”

The bishops’ recommendations will frustrate campaigners for equal marriage, who say the C of E’s positions causes immense harm to LGBTQ+ people and is out of step with public opinion.

Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, who recently went public in his support for equal marriage, said he was “disappointed, as many others will be, that we’ve not been able to find a consensus to remove the barriers to marriage in C of E churches.

“However, we are taking a significant step forward, and the measures proposed will make a significant difference to the lives of LGBT+ people in the life of the church in the coming years.”

C of E bishops will also review the ban on clergy having same-sex civil marriages, and the requirement for clergy in same-sex relationships to be celibate.

Bishops will issue an apology later this week to LGBTQ+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives.

The proposals came out of several meetings by bishops in recent months, which were the culmination of six years of consultations and discussions on same-sex marriage within the church.

Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, said: “This response reflects the diversity of views in the C of E on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage – I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church.

“I am under no illusions that what we are proposing today will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others, but it is my hope that what we have agreed will be received in a spirit of generosity, seeking the common good.”

Jayne Ozanne, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ+ equality in the church, said the “small concession” meant “we are still second-class and discriminated against”. The bishops were offering “breadcrumbs – the minimum they can do, rather than authorised rites put into canon law and recognised formally”, she said.

The Rev Nigel Pietroni, chair of the Campaign for Equal Marriage in the C of E, said: “These proposals to offer commendations and blessings, whilst undoubtedly small movement, continue to treat LGBTQ+ people and their relationships as inferior and second-class. This is not good enough.”

LGBTQ+ Anglicans “will feel that the church has once again let them down”, he added.

On the other side of the debate, Ian Paul, an orthodox evangelical, said: “There is going to be no change to the doctrine of marriage. That’s very clear. But the waters have been muddied in quite an unhelpful way. Saying that the doctrine is not going to change and in the same breath saying we want to bless same-sex relationships is entirely incoherent, entirely contradictory.”

Andrea Williams, a conservative evangelical member of the C of E, said: “This is capitulation by the church … It is making way for the celebration of ‘same-sex marriage’ in all but name.

“Whilst not formally changing the doctrine of marriage as between one man and one woman for life, the C of E is planning to completely disregard the bible’s teaching on marriage.”

The Episcopal Church in Scotland and the Church of Scotland allow same-sex couples to be married in church. The Church in Wales permits clergy to bless same sex-civil marriages.


Harriet Sherwood

The GuardianTramp

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