The Dean of Durham wrote on The Bishops and Same-Sex Marriage
…As to what the bishops say about marriage, I agree that the proposals are not nearly strong enough on marriage as a covenanted relationship of fidelity. In this respect, the Archbishop is right: same-sex and other-sex marriages would not be entirely equal. But for this reason, I don’t think it is correct to speak about the measure as ‘redefining’ of marriage. The public covenant between two people who love and wish to belong to each other can and should be precisely the same in both. It’s no more a redefining of marriage than the remarriage of divorced people. In some ways, that is the more radical step to take because it entails considering in what way a covenant that has been broken for whatever reason could be entered into a subsequent time with another partner. So if the church is (largely) content to bless and even solemnise such marriages, this next step of making the institution more inclusive should not necessarily pose new difficulties. To enlarge the scope of an institution is not the same as changing its essential meaning.
There is something worryingly familiar about the bishops’ statement however. It is too often the case that the church is on the back foot, at first resisting social change that is wanted by the majority, then coming round to it slowly and grudgingly. This was precisely the case when artificial contraception was being debated in the early 20th century. Lambeth Conferences were root and branch opposed to the idea that sex could be for recreation as well as procreation. It would have been better to adopt the Gamaliel position of saying ‘let us wait and see whether this might be of God’. Much the same can be said about women as priests and bishops in the church.
If you scroll down my blogs on this Woolgathering site, you’ll find my piece on Gamaliel and equal marriage. It’s clearer now than then which way history is moving. It’s not too late for the Church of England to be on the right side of it this time. Without grudge.
Michael Portillo is reported to have said this on a television programme:
“I think it is a good moment to reflect on the fact that whilst this has been presented as an issue that has caused enormous problems for David Cameron and splits within the Conservative Party – actually the problems are really with the Church of England and indeed with the Catholic Church.
“[They] just do not know how to deal with the issue of homosexuality and gay priests and gay bishops and so on. And that is where the division is and the churches are haemorrhaging membership like water disappearing from a bath and they don’t have any way of dealing with this problem.”
Savi Hensman wrote at Ekklesia Church of England’s stance on marriage and sexuality still unclear
Some people may be understandably confused about the Church of England’s position on same-sex partnerships and equal marriage. Official statements, the publicly-voiced views of senior clergy and broader opinions among church members point in different directions. Part of this is to do with realism, but shifts in understanding also play a part.
At the beginning of the week of a House of Lords debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, proposing marriage equality in England and Wales, it might have seemed that the ‘party line’ was clear. Policy and study documents suggest that, while lay Anglicans may conscientiously believe that physically intimate same-sex partnerships can be right, they are in fact wrong, and lifelong celibacy is preferable for those attracted mainly to the same sex.
Issues in human sexuality, a statement by the House of Bishops in 1991, took this line, and urged that clergy abstain from sexual relationships with members of the same sex, though hostility to lesbians and gays was deplorable and intrusive questioning about private lives was discouraged…
Gerry Lynch wrote A Farewell Discourse: The Hard Truths That Set Us Free
…I’ll briefly review the Church of England’s record on LGBT issues, and then I’ll review Justin’s record, which is typical of most Evangelical clergy and pretty much every Evangelical bishop of his generation. I could write an equally critical article about Liberal Catholic bishops, but it would be involve different criticism and, let’s be honest, that’s not who has been driving the agenda on sexuality issues in the Church of England for a long time.
This is, unfair as it may seem, the sum total what you have managed to communicate to LGBTs over the past two decades. It may not be what you wanted to communicate, but it’s what you did.
Over the past 15 years, there has been a revolution in how same-sex relationships have been treated in law in the United Kingdom, as in most Western societies. The Church of England opposed nearly every step of that process, and in the few cases where it didn’t do so formally as a denomination, its Evangelical wing did so vociferously in the media, usually led in the public charge by Archbishop Carey and other senior bishops. And I mean every step – the equalisation of the age of consent; the abolition of the hateful Section 28; the granting of adoption rights to same sex couples; same-sex marriage. The introduction of civil partnerships was accompanied by an attempt to strip them of any social or spiritual meaning and constant denigration of gay and lesbian relationships; it remains forbidden to give civil partnerships any blessing in church. The outlawing of discrimination in employment saw the Church of England attempt to carve out as wide a scope as possible where it could continue to discriminate against queers. And, yes, it was about orientation rather than practice – ask Jeffrey John.
That is the record. There is no point in trying to minimise or obfuscate it. A couple of hours with Google and Hansard will reveal it in almost every detail…