LIVERPOOL, England (OSV News) — The Church of England banned church weddings for same-sex couples while allowing priests to bless same-sex marriages and partnerships.
The General Synod of the Church of England decided Feb. 9 that gay couples would be allowed to come to church after a civil marriage or civil partnership to give thanks, dedicate their relationship to God and receive God’s blessing.
Majorities in the houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity agreed on the move after a landmark debate over two days.
Synod members also voted to “lament and repent” of “the failure of the church to welcome LGBTQI+ people and for the harm that LGBTQI+ people have experienced — and continue to experience — in churches,” said the news release from the General Synod, held in London Feb. 6-9.
Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury and Archbishop Stephen Cottrell of York said during the synod assembly that “for the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church,” according to a statement from the Church of England.
“As archbishops, we are committed to respecting the conscience of those for whom this goes too far and to ensure that they have all the reassurances they need in order to maintain the unity of the Church as this conversation continues.
Earlier in February, the Church of England announced a new compromise policy in which same-sex couples could be blessed but not their marriages, which are legal under the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013.
On Feb. 2, the world’s most senior Anglican leader said he would rather see the disestablishment of the Church of England than witness the fragmentation of the global Anglican Communion over the issue of same-sex marriage, as reported by the Church Times.
Archbishop Welby, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, told members of Parliament (MPs) that church unity was more important than the privileged status of the Church of England.
Anglicanism has been the established state religion of England for more than 400 years, following the schism forced by King Henry VIII and the settlement under his daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, that established the Church of England in its present form, with the monarch in the role of “Supreme Governor.”
Anglicans, however, have been deeply divided over the issue of the consecration of same-sex marriages in churches, and the church is under pressure from MPs calling for its conformity to the demands and practices of the state.
Conservatives do not want to break with traditional Christian teaching defining marriage as an exclusive and lifelong union between a man and a woman, while reformers, with the support of many MPs, are growing insistent that same-sex marriages must be celebrated in churches.
According to the Church Times, a leading British Anglican newspaper, Archbishop Welby was threatened with disestablishment by MPs if he did not support further changes.
He replied that it would be a price to pay for Anglican unity, said a report, and his “remarks were reportedly met with some surprise.”
A spokesperson for Lambeth Palace, the London home of the archbishop of Canterbury, would neither confirm nor deny his comments.
In a statement sent to OSV News, the spokesperson said: “The archbishop agreed to meet for a private conversation with MPs and it’s disappointing that some parliamentarians have chosen not to honor the terms of the meeting.”
“We do not recognise the account of the private discussion as it has been leaked, which was much more nuanced and complex than how it has been described.”
More than a dozen MPs have vociferously criticized the church’s refusal to permit same-sex marriages before the Church of England made a final decision on the issue Feb. 9.
Some of them met Sir Tony Baldry, the former Second Church Estates Commissioner, to warn him that the church same-sex marriage would be imposed.
Ben Bradshaw, Labour MP for Exeter, told the Church Times that the meeting “followed cross-party concerns in Parliament about the lack of progress on this issue, to examine what potential avenues Parliament has to act.”
He said that options to force same-sex church marriages included the removal of all the safeguards written into the legislation to assure Parliament during the progress of the bill that Christian groups would be protected.
Labour MP for Rhondda, Sir Chris Bryant, a former Anglican minister, also invited the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt, a fellow campaigner for gay marriage, to permit parliamentary time “for legislation to push the Church of England into allowing same-sex marriages to be conducted by parishes and clergy who want to do that, if Synod doesn’t act.”
The issue of homosexuality meanwhile arose during an ecumenical pilgrimage of peace to South Sudan, which included Pope Francis, Archbishop Welby and the Rev. Iain Greenshields, the moderator of the Church of Scotland.
During an in-flight news conference after the pilgrimage, Pope Francis said: “Criminalizing people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice.”
He added: “People with homosexual tendencies are children of God. God loves them. God accompanies them.”
Archbishop Welby said: “I wish I had spoken as eloquently and clearly as the pope. I entirely agree with every word he said.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that sexual orientation is not a sin but homosexual sexual activity is always morally impermissible. It also stresses that Christians have a duty to treat people who experience strong same-sex attraction with compassion and justice. The Vatican issued a document in 2021 emphasizng that both gay marriage and blessings for same-sex unions remained illicit.
The General Synod of the Church of England voted Feb. 9 to “endorse the decision of the College and House of Bishops not to propose any change to the doctrine of marriage, and their intention that the final version of the Prayers of Love and Faith should not be contrary to or indicative of a departure from the doctrine of the Church of England.”
Thirty-six bishops, 111 clergy and 103 laity voted in favor of blessing same-sex couples by the Church of England, while four bishops, 85 clergy and 92 laity were against it. Ten people abstained from the vote.
Simon Caldwell writes for OSV News from Liverpool.