Some time ago, the Diocese of Guildford published material on its website in the section on diocesan marriage regulations, concerning Civil Partnerships, Requests for Prayer.
This month, the diocese has published an addendum to that page (scroll down on link above), which is titled Interim Update on Civil Partnership and Same Sex Marriage. The text of this addendum is reproduced below the fold.
This update has already provoked criticism from Andrew Goddard, see A Pastoral Response to Same-sex Civil Marriage?
Interim Update on Civil Partnership and Same Sex Marriage
What is said in the current Regulations about Civil Partnerships remains the case. Government is committed to a consultation on the future of Civil Partnerships in the light of the Same Sex Marriage Act, but they remain on the statute book for the time being and may so remain. The House of Bishops and the General Synod will discuss the Pilling Report on Civil Partnerships in 2014. This is bound to take account of the Same Sex Marriage Act. For the time being however, until this wider debate takes place and unless policy then changes, what is said in the Regulations covering Civil Partnerships still holds.
However, from the time when the Same Sex Act [sic] comes into force (expected Summer 2014), clergy may well be approached for prayers after a civil marriage of persons of the same sex. The Bishops of the Church of England will be discussing this, informed by the Pilling Debate, during 2014. In the interim, the Bishop of Guildford and the Suffragan Bishop of Dorking consider that the same principles should apply as to similar requests after Civil Partnerships, noting that civil same sex marriage cannot actually take place until after the Act comes into force (as above).
In the current Regulations, it is noted that there is a distinction between marriage as the Church understands it (heterosexual) and civil partnerships. So clergy may pray pastorally with, and for, a same sex couple after a Civil Partnership if they consider it to be an authentic Christian relationship. Nevertheless, this should not purport to be marriage or to use the language of the Marriage Services.
On the same principle, while noting that Church and State have now diverged in the understanding of marriage, it would be appropriate for clergy who conscientiously judge a same sex Civil Marriage to be an authentic Christian relationship to similarly pray with, and for, such a couple. Because the teaching of the Church remains that this is not marriage, the texts of the Marriage Services should not be used. An additional reason for avoiding Marriage Service language in this instance, is that in law a Civil Marriage has in fact taken place and the Church should do nothing to put in question the legal position of the couple as married according to Civil Law, which could be inferred by supplemental material from the Church of England Marriage Services, which are themselves also ‘legal’ texts.
In agreeing to a request for pastoral prayer, the clergy person concerned will need to make the Church’s position clear in terms of its teaching about marriage, as the Church has historically understood marriage. But this does not imply a grudging or negative view of the couple: the clergy person should respect the positive values of fidelity expressed in the vows the couple have made in a Civil Marriage, even if the Church believes this is, in reality, a distinct and different relationship from Christian Marriage as traditionally understood.
Nevertheless, there is no legal or canonical obligation for any clergy person to agree to requests for pastoral prayer, should any clergy person feel constrained in conscience to abstain, or if they judge the relationship not to be appropriate.