Church of England paves the way for same sex marriages


Church of England paves the way for same sex marriages after three years of behind-closed-doors arguments on issue

  • Church of England announced moves that could lead to approval of same-sex marriages 
  • Promised to make decision on changing rules that say gay sex is sinful 
  • It follows three years of behind-closed-doors arguments among church leaders 

The Church of England yesterday announced moves that could lead to approval of same-sex marriages.

It promised to make a decision within two years on changing Anglican rules that say gay sex is sinful. It follows three years of behind-closed-doors arguments among church leaders.

A group led by the Bishop of London, the Right Reverend Sarah Mullally, will devise a ‘way forward for the Church in relation to human identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage’. 

The Church of England yesterday announced moves that could lead to approval of same-sex marriages

Church leaders have produced a 480-page book, with accompanying films, podcasts and education courses to explore the issue.

The Church has been deeply divided over gay rights since 1987, when its parliament, the General Synod, first voted to reinforce traditional teaching that gay sex is sinful. Earlier this year bishops restated the teaching that sex is for married couples only and that civil partnerships should be ‘sexually abstinent friendships’.

Same-sex civil marriages were introduced in 2014 and their predecessor, civil partnerships that carry the rights of marriage in all but name, were brought in in 2005. However the legislation gave faith groups an effective opt-out.

The Bishop of Coventry, the Right Reverend Christopher Cocksworth, who helped produced yesterday’s new material, said: ‘There is no doubt that there are certain decisions in 2022 that the Church will have to face.’

He added: ‘There are some who feel this doctrine of marriage is ripe for development.’

Discussions are expected to be completed next year and to lead to ‘a timely conclusion in 2022 which would then be put before Synod.’

The Synod has the power to enact legally-binding rules but its deliberations are lengthy. They could mean the first Church of England same-sex marriages would be solemnised by 2025.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, attempted a reform in 2017. But his scheme, which would have allowed blessing services but not marriage for gay couples, went down to an ignominious defeat in the Synod. It satisfied neither gay rights supporters nor conservative evangelicals, who combined to defeat it.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, attempted a reform in 2017 (File image of Justin Welby)

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby, attempted a reform in 2017 (File image of Justin Welby) 

The years since have been devoted to the secretive production of yesterday’s book and films, called Living in Love and Faith.

Archbishop Welby said in a foreword to the book, written with the Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend Stephen Cottrell, that the Church should be ashamed of causing hurt to gay people.

The archbishops added: ‘Defensiveness is felt, and aggression is experienced, both by those who long for change and by those who believe, sincerely, that change would be wrong and damaging.’

A further statement signed by all the CofE’s bishops said: ‘Disagreements are to be found among us as bishops. We do not agree on a number of matters relating to identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage.

‘Some of those differences of view relate to the ethics and lifestyle of opposite sex relationships and some relate to questions around gender and pastoral provisions for transgender people. Most pressing among our differences are questions around same-sex relationships, and we recognize that here decisions in several interconnected areas need to be made with some urgency.’

Any new deal on gay rights and same-sex marriage may follow the same pattern as the row over women priests and bishops, which also ran for decades and ended in compromise. While women are now appointed as both priests and bishops, parishes where traditionalists hold sway continue to maintain men-only clergy.

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