First, a statement from one of the bishops who was not present in the House of Lords. The Bishop of Gloucester has issued this The Marriage (same Sex Couples) Bill.
… I accept that the bill has now received overwhelming support in both Houses of Parliament and that the task of the Church, through the bishops, is now to respect the view that has been so clearly endorsed and to argue for any amendments that might make the legislation more acceptable to those whose consciences are troubled.
I share the view expressed by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the debate that the Church has not often served the LGBT communities in the way it should. I hope we shall be more affirming and supportive for the future and in particular that the House of Bishops Working Party on Human Sexuality, of which I am a member, will be able to help the Church towards a more positive valuing of committed and faithful homosexual partnerships.
In the light of the suggestion in the Telegraph that bishops had been put under pressure by Church of England officials to abstain from voting on the Bill, I need to say very firmly that no such pressure was put on me (nor, I think, on any bishop). The pressure that we have experienced has been an unprecedented campaign of letters, emails and phone calls from those urging us to vote against the Second Reading of the Bill…
And before the vote the Bishop of Lichfield had published this: Bishops in the House of Lords & the Marriage Bill.
Today, the Church Times carries a report of the debate by Madeleine Davies Bishops gather in Lords to vote against gay-marriage Bill which also notes that several Christian peers spoke in favour of the bill.
And there is a leader article, signed by Paul Handley, under the title More than one voice. This should be read in full, but it concludes this way:
…No legislation framed at such a juncture is going to be perfect. But, whatever the flaws of this Bill, it is important that the present debate is seen for what it is: a test of the Church’s ability to address people who are, by and large, more compassionate and accepting than the Church is currently perceived to be. The general population sees marriages that do not look like marriages, cohabitations that do, and same-sex relationships that can look like either. For their part, many in the Church see only an ideal – which is odd, given the pastoral encounters that churchpeople have, and the range of relationships that exist in most congregations.
Once the legislation is passed, as we assume it will be, there will not be an opportunity for a clearer, more nuanced debate. This is it. Hereafter, the Church’s pronouncements on marriage will be coloured by the reputation it gains now. At present, this appears to be censorious, and out of touch with reality. Its criticisms of poor legislation are interpreted as simple prejudice. In reality, the Church is divided on this issue, and it is vital that those who have a more confident view of marriage, and a more open view of sexuality, make their voices heard.