Fiery debate – no marriage but Anglican Church approves gay-couple blessings

The Church of England has approved gay-couple blessings for the first time.

The approval came after bishops rejected calls to allow same-sex marriages in churches at a meeting in January. Instead, they proposed numerous options and suggested offering blessings after a civil partnership or marriage, known as Prayers of Love and Faith.

The Anglican General Synod – the Church’s elected governing body – spent five hours discussing and voting on the bishops’ new proposals.

The vote was passed in all three Synod houses: the bishops, clergy and laity.

Bishops voted for it by 36 to four, with two abstentions. The clergy voted for it by 111 to 85, with three abstentions. The house of laity approved it 103 to 92, with five abstentions.

While their approval for gay-couple blessings after nearly six years of internal debate has been welcomed by some as progress, others say it doesn’t go far enough.

Last week both bishops and clergy made impassioned pleas to back or block the plans and 28 related amendments.

The amendments include no change to rules banning Anglican priests from officiating at weddings of same-sex couples. However, they could offer “God’s blessing” for civil marriages or civil partnerships in a church.

Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Stephen Cottrell, the Archbishop of York, said in a joint statement: “It has been a long road to get us to this point.

“For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church. The Church continues to have deep differences on these questions which go to the heart of our human identity.

“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.

“We hope that today’s thoughtful, prayerful debate marks a new beginning for the Church as we seek a way forward, listening to each other and most of all to God. Above all we continue to pray, as Jesus himself prayed, for the unity of his church and that we would love one another.”

The momentous shift in church orthodoxy was welcomed by the Archbishop of York.

He told Synod that same-sex couples “could now come to church and have that relationship acknowledged, celebrated and the couple receive a blessing” in a move that will be optional for priests.

Last month, in an open letter, the Anglican bishops also issued an unprecedented apology directly to LGBTQ people for the sometimes “hostile and homophobic response” they have faced in parishes.

Blessings without marriage

Veteran UK gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell described blessings without a marriage as “an insult”.

He said same-sex couples should be able to marry in their own parish church.

“This is a right extended to every heterosexual man and woman in England, regardless of their religion – but not to LGBTs. That’s discrimination, and discrimination is not a Christian value.”


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