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Church of England fails to unite behind same-sex marriage

February 9, 2023

The Church will offer blessings to same-sex marriages, but still will not officiate them. The decision was agreed on by elected bishops, clergy and lay people in London.

Members of the Church of England's Synod, gather at the General Synod of the Church of England, at Church House in central London
The General Synod took place over two days in central LondonImage: James Manning/AP/picture alliance

The Church of England voted to keep a ban on officiating same-sex marriage on Thursday but agreed to allow priests to bless same-sex marriages and civil partnerships.

The General Synod — the Church's governing body made up of elected bishops, clergy and lay people — backed the compromise proposal after eight hours of debates across two days.

The proposal also included an apology to LGBTQ people for failing to welcome them into the Church.

It comes after half a decade of wrangling to bring the Church up-to-date on same-sex marriage — which was legalized in the UK in 2013.

"For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church," Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell said.

But the offer of blessings has been derided as meaningless after the Synod voted not to change the rules that bar Anglican priests from officiating same-sex marriages.

Same-sex marriage opposers face criticism

Progressive members of the Church had been pushing for greater reforms and said the compromise plan did not go far enough, while conservative critics called the plan divisive and unwelcome.

The two leading archbishops agreed that the Church still had "deep differences" over LGBTQ issues.

"I know that what we have proposed as a way forward does not go nearly far enough for many but too far for others," the Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, said in a statement.

"It is my prayer that what has been agreed today will represent a step forward for all of us within the Church — including LGBTQI+ people — as we remain committed to walking together."

But gay rights campaigner and Synod member Jayne Ozanne slammed the offer of blessings, saying it was "breadcrumbs," adding that it tells LGBT people that "they cannot hope to get married any time soon in their church or that their desire for sexual intimacy is sinful, we send a message to the nation that few will understand."

Conservative stance holds out

While support for the proposal to offer blessings to same-sex marriage succeeded by some margin (250 voted for, 181 against), the majority of the Synod remains opposed to fully integrating LGBT people into the Church.

"Those of us who have been trying to hold on to the historic teaching on the Church of England, and the position of the majority Anglican Communion are saying things have gone too far," John Dunnett, of the Church of England Evangelical Council said.

"We believe that good differentiation is going to be the only way to have settled, good disagreement," he added.

The Church of England is the largest body of the Anglican Communion which is comprised of 43 Churches in 165 countries, many former colonies of the British Empire. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head of both the Church of England and the Anglican Communion.

Anglicanism is the third-largest Christian communion after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, with its number of followers reaching around 85 million.

Some of the largest Anglican Churches are found in sub-Saharan Africa where many countries are highly religious and conservative and where homosexuality still remains banned outright and can result in prison sentences.

Coming out in the Catholic Church

ab/jcg (AFP, AP)