Bishops in favour of gay marriage have praised the Church of England’s decision to allow the blessing of same-sex partnerships even though clergy will remain banned from marrying same-sex couples.
The Bishop of Oxford, the most senior Anglican bishop to publicly support gay marriage, said the change represented “significant steps forward” and that a planned apology for the Church’s historic attitude to LGBTQ+ people was welcome.
The plans, to be outlined in a report to the General Synod, will allow same-sex couples to come to Anglican churches after a legal marriage ceremony for services including prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and God’s blessing.
The Rt Rev Steven Croft said: “I am sorry that some things are not being taken forward, particularly civil marriage in church for same-sex couples. I would have wanted to see that.
“Those are all significant steps forward and give us a strong platform for future developments on same-sex marriage.”
The Bishop of Reading, the Rt Rev Olivia Graham, who also supports gay marriage, said: “I am aware that some will be disappointed that we could not agree to pursue affirming same-sex marriages in the Church at this stage.
“But I am very glad we have agreed to commend prayers for God’s blessing on same-sex relationships. It is also right that we will be offering an apology for the damage and pain that has been caused to LGBTQI+ people.”
“Although I had personally wished the Church would go further, it is clear the majority were not ready to do so at this time.”
The bishops’ decision, which does not represent a formal change in doctrine, comes after they finalised a report into the church’s position on sexuality following five years of debate and consultation.
The report from the College of Bishops will be published on Friday morning alongside a press conference at 10.30am.
Clergy who oppose same-sex marriage have, however, criticised the decision, suggesting that the theological rift between conservative and liberal Anglicans on the issue could widen.
Rev Canon John Dunnett, chairman of the synod’s evangelical grouping, told the PA News Agency that he feared the changes were a “Trojan horse” for an eventual acceptance of gay weddings.
He said: “It seems to me that it is changing our understanding of sex and marriage even though the bishops are suggesting that it is not. You can argue whether it is right or wrong, but let’s not kid ourselves the proposals are for a real change.
“We recognise some people want change. We’re saying that we disagree theologically with them fundamentally, but in good heart why don’t we make some space and say ‘if you want to do your thing then it is up to you’.”
He added: “The bit of the Church that preaches the biblical view of all kind of things is not dying. We are the bit of the Church that has young people, we are the bit of the Church that is growing. The idea that the Church has to change its doctrine to win young people and to grow is not borne out by evidence.”
Deacon Charlie Bell, assistant curate at St John the Divine in Kennington, south London, told the PA news agency gay Christians would still feel like “second rate” citizens in the church.
Revd Bell said: “There is a mixture of politics and principle in all of this and I think the bishops have chosen the safe way through which goes some way to resolving this issue but doesn’t go nearly far enough.
“They must recognise that for LGBTQ+ people, a lot of people will simply hear this as yet again, ‘you are second rate, you are second best, your relationships are not equivalent to people of the opposite sex’.”