John Bingham reports in the Telegraph Bishops under pressure to abstain in gay marriage vote.
Despite vocal opposition from the Church to the Government’s plans to allow same-sex couples to marry, it is understood that senior officials have personally urged bishops to stay away from this week’s vote.
They fear that a large bloc of clerics turning up to vote down the bill could rebound on the Church, reopening questions over the right of bishops to sit in the Lords and even raise the prospect of disestablishment.
They have also told bishops privately that they are convinced the bill, which includes legal “locks” to prevent clergy being forced to carry out same-sex weddings against their beliefs, is the “best” they could hope to achieve…
…In a letter to be handed in to Lambeth Palace this morning, 30 leaders of independent churches, including a string of so-called “black majority” churches, warn that the church of England faces a “defining point” over the issue of same-sex marriage.
It is understood that the Archbishop intends both to speak and vote against the bill. But officials are anxious not to be seen to be taking on the Government over the issue. Last night Lambeth Palace confirmed that Archbishop Welby would attend but declined to comment on how he would vote.
A recent Church of England briefing note to MPs warmly praised the Government for introducing legal protections for clerics.
A total of 26 bishops are entitled to sit in the Lords – although the bishops’ bench is currently reduced with the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, recovering from a cancer operation, and the see of Durham left vacant by Archbishop Welby’s promotion to Canterbury.
But under current convention they take turns to sit in the Lords, with usually only two bishops in attendance for most debates.
Officials in Church House are said to have urged bishops to limit their numbers to around six at the most for the controversial debate. It is thought that up to 10 of them could defy the advice and vote against the bill.
The officials are said to be afraid that were the bill to be defeated by a handful of votes, the bishops would be singled out for blame.
One senior source said that officials in the Church had begun to “call the shots more and more” during the last 10 years, under the tenure of the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams.
“What they are scared of is that this goes down by a few votes and then the bishops are seen as having swung the vote,” said one…