Thinking Anglicans

CofE position on same-sex marriage

In light of yesterday’s announcement, it may be helpful to reprise what the Church of England has said in the recent past about the government’s proposals concerning same-sex marriage.

Here is the original consultation document. Among other things it said:

We have listened to those religious organisations that raised concerns about the redefinition of religious marriage. We are aware that some religious organisations that solemnize marriages through a religious ceremony believe that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.

That is why this consultation is limited to consideration of civil marriage and makes no proposals to change the way that religious marriages are solemnized. It will not be legally possible under these proposals for religious organisations to solemnize religious marriages for same-sex couples. There will therefore be no obligation or requirement for religious organisations or ministers of religion to do this. It will also not be possible for a same-sex couple to have a civil marriage ceremony on religious premises. Marriages of any sort on religious premises would still only be legally possible between a man and a woman.

Here is the press release issued on 12 June about the CofE’s response: A Response to the Government Equalities Office Consultation -“Equal Civil Marriage”- [from the Church of England].

And here is the actual response made by the CofE published that day: A Response to the Government Equalities Office Consultation -“Equal Civil Marriage”- from the Church of England

You can follow Thinking Anglicans reporting of the ensuing news coverage by following this link and scrolling to June 2012.

Then in July, at General Synod, a lot of Questions were asked about this response. Here is a copy of the official transcript of the Questions with Answers.

Yesterday, the following further press release was published in response to what has been described as a U-turn by the government on the issue of religious participation in same-sex marriages. Like the official response it is totally anonymous. Unlike the first one, it makes not even a small attempt to mention that there is a wide range of views on this topic held by members of the Church of England.


  • Paul Dean says:

    Who cares what the C of E thinks? Not me!

  • Fr Paul Webb says:

    “We believe that redefining marriage to include same-sex relationships will entail a dilution in the meaning of marriage for everyone” from the CofE official statement.

    Whoever this “we” is it does not include me. Of course as a remarried divorcee I have already contributed to a dilution in the meaning of marriage so I am probably disqualified from having anything to say on the subject. Kyrie eleison.

  • badman says:

    The Archbishop of Canterbury told General Synod: “The Church of England has never regarded the validity or indeed value of a marriage as dependent on the possibility or intention of having children.” It would have been relevant if he had managed to smuggle that clear and important statement into the bizarre complementarian submissions to Government, drafted by others, which have been presented in the name of the “Church of England”.

    The Revd Michael Parsons asked: “Is the Archbishop aware of the outrage felt by a significant proportion of the Church of England that this statement was issued in the name of the Church of England, whereas they would wish to dissociate themselves completely from it?” The Archbishop of Canterbury answered with a clear “Yes”. He stressed that “there was no Synod meeting during the three-month consultation period, which ran from March to June.”

    But November General Synod comes and goes – and immediately another anonymous response from “the Church of England” goes in with no further discussion – as tendentious, unconvincing and unauthorised as the first.

    This sort of thing does nothing to heal the lack of trust in the House of Bishops referred to Mark Chapman’s Church Times article.

  • It’s frequently claimed that the Conservatives made no Manifesto commitment to same-sex marriage at the 2010 General Election.

    In fact, in this document
    they said:

    “We will also consider the case for changing the law to allow civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage.”

  • Peter Sherlock says:

    The repeated use of the word ‘complementarity’ in the statement points to the Church of England’s problems in articulating a coherent position on gender or sexuality. The failure of the General Synod on female bishops was partly because of the novel idea of complementarianism, rejected by many as an inadequate understanding of gender identity. Yet it here it is presented as the basis of the Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage. We must do better than this.

  • Randal Oulton says:

    It’s *not* that complicated.
    Today, we rightly see discrimination based on sexual orientation as arbitrary, inappropriate and unfair. Looking back, we can hardly believe that such rights were ever a matter for debate. It is my hope that we will ultimately see the current debate in a similar light; realizing that nothing has been lost or sacrificed by the majority in extending full rights to the minority.

    Without our relentless, inviolable commitment to equality and minority rights, Canada would not be at the forefront in accepting newcomers from all over the world, in making a virtue of our multicultural nature – the complexity of ethnicities and beliefs that make up Canada, that make us proud that we are where our world is going, not where it’s been.

    Four years ago, I stood in this House and voted to support the traditional definition of marriage. Many of us did. My misgivings about extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples were a function of my faith, my perspective on the world around us.

    But much has changed since that day. We’ve heard from courts across the country, including the Supreme Court. We’ve come to the realization that instituting civil unions – adopting a “separate but equal” approach – would violate the equality provisions of the Charter. We’ve confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms….

    If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Mr. Speaker, together as a nation, together as Canadians. Let us step forward.

    — Paul Martin, Feb 2005, PM of Canada and practising Catholic, speaking on the passage of marriage equality in Canada.

  • Simon:

    ‘Consider the case’ is not the same as saying, ‘Government’s consultation was not about whether to bring it in – but how to bring it in.’ as the Coalition did. That was not the manifesto commitment.

    It treated the case for same-sex marriage as a fait accompli, rather than providing each side of the debate with the opportunity to present its arguments.

  • Flora Alexander says:

    I simply do not understand how my heterosexual marriage would be ‘diluted’ if my homosexual friends were to marry. It seems to me that sex and gender are being confused in the CofE statements on this issue.

  • Since when has complementarity been the CofE’s official position? Can the CofE please tell us who is authoring these statements on our behalf.

    Not in my name!

  • Judith Maltby says:

    Peter Sherlock is spot on. What I find most striking about this statement from the ‘Church of England’, as a member of General Synod, is that it was precisely this language of ‘complementarity’ based on ‘objective’ differences between the sexes (any fifth former should know that ‘objectivity’ is a very problematic concept …) which was used as an argument *against* the ordination of women in the recent debate debacle on women bishops. The fact that this intellectually feeble theology was so recently employed in that debate is getting reprised here, may tell us a great deal of where the authors (who ever they are) are coming from, so to speak. Or at the very least, there are some very strange bedfellows indeed.

  • Spirit of Vatican II says:

    If the State pressurizes the Church into changing its practice of marriage, will that not be a breach of religious freedom that would make disestablishment advisable? It’s up to the Church to be led by the Spirit on this, not to be bullied by shallow politicians.

  • Craig Nelson says:

    Yeah, complementarity’s back, big time

  • Jean Mayland says:

    I have been a member of the Church of england for 76 years but i say quite firmly that what is claImed to be the Church of England’s position on Gay Marriage is NOT mine.I am in favour and hope it comes soon. Rather than diluting the concept of marriage it develops it.


  • John says:

    Strange comment, ‘Spirit’. Nobody on the ‘pro-gay-marriage’ side is ‘pressurising’ the church – Cameron is emphatic that the church will always have ‘opt-outs’. He (and many of us) merely want ‘opt-ins’ for those many clergy who would be entirely happy celebrating such marriages in church. And, although in general I do think Cameron belongs to the category of ‘shallow politicians’, in this case I think he is acting out of conviction: for him it represents a sort of redemption for all the other dirty things he has been doing.

  • Craig Nelson says:

    In response to David Shepherd – they did consider it; the conclusion of their considerations was that they should proceed to do it.

    I’m not sure why they had a consultation about ‘how not if’. I think it’s because they’re a coalition government and the range of issues are agreed by the two parties who each need to be happy with the overall mix of policies (I do not support either party by the way) but a coalition government by definition is going to be different to one party rule in such matters.

    Anyhow I think it would be a bit ridiculous to consider but then do nothing about it based on your considerations.

    By the way, can’t wait to read the Bill.

  • Samuel Denyer says:

    All you GS members – what about a private members motion to demand that no press releases are issued without signatures of the individuals or groups of individuals responsible?

    Someone signed off on this. It is damaging and deceitful for them to remain in the shadows.

  • Andrew says:

    The bishops are going to find it difficult to maintain a coherent policy in the months ahead defending the complementarity doctrine in their opposition to gay marriage whilst ignoring it in their support of women bishops. Even if one might disagree with the Reform position, at least it is consistent, in contrast to the bishops’ irreconcilable statements.

  • Gary Paul Gilbert says:

    One of the bodies the Communications Office answers to is the Archbishops’ Council, of which Rowan Williams and John Sentamu are the joint presidents. This is not good news for advocates for equality.

    Philip Giddings, Chair of the House of Laity, was involved in seeing to it that Jeffrey John was denied a position as a bishop in 2003. Another sign that he is less than liberal is he voted against opening the episcopate to women this November.

    This council only goes back to 1994 and seems to be part of a general trend toward centralization.

    If I can find out these things from North America I would imagine people in England can find out how to deal with this council.

    Gary Paul Gilbert

    The list of members is

    Joint Presidents

    The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury

    The Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York

    Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury
    The Venerable Christine Hardman

    Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of York
    The Revd Canon Glyn Webster

    Chair of the House of Laity
    Dr Philip Giddings

    Vice-Chair of the House of Laity
    Mr Tim Hind

    Elected by the House of Bishops
    The Rt Revd Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield
    The Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, Bishop of Dover

    Elected by the House of Clergy
    The Revd Canon Robert Cotton
    The Revd Mark Ireland

    Elected by the House of Laity
    Mrs Christina Rees
    Mr Paul Boyd-Lee

    Church Estates Commissioner
    Mr Andreas Whittam Smith, First Church Estates Commissioner

    Appointed by the Archbishops
    Mr Andrew Britton: former Director, National Institute of Economic and Social Research
    Mrs Mary Chapman: former CEO, Chartered Institute of Management
    Professor John Craven: Vice Chancellor, University of Portsmouth
    Mr Philip Fletcher: Chair, OFWAT
    The Revd Dr Rosalyn Murphy: priest-in-charge, St Thomas’s, Blackpool
    Miss Rebecca Swinson: Medical Researcher

  • Martin Reynolds says:

    Some excellent points here. On an earlier thread Fr David made the same comparison. But surely those now making these comments on behalf of the CofE can see the glaring inconsistency as well as us? It does rather beggar belief.

    As to the “not in a manifesto” argument, apart from the excellent piece from Simon, the key issue here is that this is a matter that enjoys cross party support. Only the DUP has opposed gay marriage.

    Surely this makes the test of the ballot box moot.

  • A Nigerian says:

    Can somebody help me here (as English is not my first language)?

    Is the Church of England for or against same-sex marriage?

    This sort of faux sophistry and waffling gives the CoE less, not more legitimacy in the eyes of Africans.

  • Flora Alexander says:

    I understand now that the CofE 7 Dec press release was drawn largely from the House of Bishops’ submission to the government of June 2012. This suggests that about 40 years of work in Womens’ Studies, Gender Studies, and Queer Theory has passed the House of Bishops by.

  • badman says:

    From the Editorial in The Times this morning:

    “Allowing same-sex couples to marry will strengthen the institution of marriage, bolster social stability and make a great many people very happy.”

    But “the Church of England” is against it.

  • As we have never seen the text of the covering note to that response from the CofE in June, we have no idea whether it was sent in the name of the House of Bishops, or anyone else, other than the two archbishops.

  • Craig:

    Whatever the reasons, I’m just saying that it’s not the same as a prior Manifesto commitment to support same sex marriage.

    Looking forward to joining in the dissection of the draft bill, even if I contradict liberal orthodoxy.

  • Alan T Perry says:

    -The proposal is the work of “men of loose morals.”

    -It will affect “both public morality and our whole standing as a Church.”

    -It will “destroy the happiness of a thousand homes for the sake of a few.”

    The above arguments were put forth by Bishop John Medley, Metropolitan of the Province of Canada in response to a Bill in the Parliament of Canada to legalize marriage to a deceased wife’s sister in 1880. “An Act concerning Marriage with a Deceased Wife’s Sister” received Royal Assent in 1882. (The UK took another generation to adopt the same provisions)

    Seems there is truly nothing new under the sun.

  • John McKeown says:

    > The Archbishop of Canterbury told General Synod: “The Church of England has never regarded the validity or indeed value of a marriage as dependent on the possibility or intention of having children.”

    Thank you ‘badman’ for sharing that – it is reassuring, but (as you say) the 7 December statement differs. Comparing it now to the June 2012 statement (thanks) the authors have moved further towards linking the essence of marriage to “fruitfulness of procreation” i.e. reproductivity.

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