The Church of England has voted in favour of a motion to offer blessings to same-sex couples in civil partnerships and marriages today.
The decision came after a marathon emotional near-eight hour debate across two days ended in a vote for the motion – which did not seek to change the position on gay marriage, meaning same-sex couples are still unable to marry in church.
Immediately before the vote in the Synod, a minute of silence was observed followed by a prayer said by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Approval of the motion allows same-sex couples to go to Anglican churches after a legal marriage ceremony for services including prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and God’s blessing.
The motion had been brought by the Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, and was the result of six years of work on questions of identity, sexuality, relationships and marriage known as Living In Love And Faith.
The Bishop of London Dame Sarah Mullally called the decision a ‘moment of hope’
The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke passionately during the debate
The Archbishop is in favour of offering blessings to same-sex couples
This momentous decision marks a compromise that the Church of England has made to ensure the unity of the Anglican Communion, and prevent the splintering of traditionalists from the church.
LGBT issues have set deep divisions in the Church for four decades, but the Church has maintained his stance of prohibiting marriage for homosexual couples, despite the 2013 legislation for same-sex marriage.
The Church of England has been able to uphold this stance as it exempt under the Equality Act.
During the 1980s, there was growing debate on homosexuality within the Church, during which the Church conceded that there were questions ‘unresolved’ on the issue, after the General Synod passed the motion that ‘homosexual genital acts fall short of [God’s] ideal and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion’ in 1987.
Approval of the motion allows same-sex couples to go to Anglican churches after a legal marriage ceremony for services including prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and God’s blessing
A few years later, in 1991, the Church concluded that while the church cannot approve of gay Christians who choose to be in sexually active relationships, it should continue to offer friendship and understanding to them.
In a declaration made in 1998, Justin Welby affirmed that gay sex was a sin, but said he would not seek to discipline C of E churches that would conduct or bless same-sex marriages.
That same year, the once-in-a-decade Lambeth Conference met in Kent, and voted through a resolution that opposed same-sex unions or any kind of blessing of them.
This momentous decision marks a compromise that the Church of England has made to ensure the unity of the Anglican Communion, and prevent splintering of traditionalists from the church
The Civil Partnership Act came into effect in 2005, whereby bishops in the Church of England released a statement declaring the Church continued to believe that sex and marriage were permissible only between one man and one woman.
The Pilling Report in 2013 suggested that clergy should be allowed to offer public services to ‘mark’ same-sex relationships, and that the C of E’s current teaching was ‘deeply off-putting’ to non-believers.
In a huge watershed moment for the Church, The Bishop of Grantham, Nicholas Chamberlain, became the first English bishop to come out openly as gay in 2016.
He said he was living with his partner in a celibate relationship, in line with the church’s teaching.
The Synod eventually voted in favour of a motion to offer blessings to same-sex couples in civil partnerships and marriages today
This sparked the Church into releasing a new teaching document offering guidance on same-sex relationships, aiming to allow ‘maximum freedom’ without changing doctrine.
A few years later, it was announced gay bishops would be invited to the next Lambeth Conference in 2019, to be held in the summer of 2020, with the added clause that their spouses and partners would not be, unlike the spouses of straight bishops.
In 2020, a long-awaited resource called ‘Living in Love and Faith’ was published which required churches to undertake a short source of study using its materials.
At a debate last night, members had rejected 16 attempts to change the proposal to offer blessings for same-sex couples
Last year, Justin Welby addressed the Lambeth Conference of global Anglican bishops, stating that the Communion was deeply divided over same sex issues, and that he accepting the validity of both sides within the Communion.
This speech is thought to have been a landmark moment, prompting the vote on blessings for couples to be allowed today.
Bishop of London, Dame Sarah Mullally, described the vote in favour of the motion as a ‘moment of hope for the Church’.
Dame Sarah, who led the debate and chairs the group which oversaw the development of the proposals, said: ‘I know that what we have proposed as a way forward does not go nearly far enough for many but too far for others.
‘It is my prayer that what has been agreed today will represent a step forward for all of us within the Church, including LGBTQI+ people, as we remain committed to walking together.
‘We have always said we will listen carefully to Synod, so over the next few months so we will reflect on everything which has been said and prepare new pastoral guidance for the Church on matters of sexuality and marriage.
LGBT issues have set deep divisions in the Church for four decades, but the Church has maintained his stance of prohibiting marriage for homosexual couples
‘We will also refine the texts of prayers of love and faith.’
In a joint statement, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said it had been a ‘long road to get us to this point’.
They said: ‘For the first time, the Church of England will publicly, unreservedly and joyfully welcome same-sex couples in church.
‘The Church continues to have deep differences on these questions which go to the heart of our human identity.
‘As Archbishops, we are committed to respecting the conscience of those for whom this goes too far and to ensure that they have all the reassurances they need in order to maintain the unity of the church as this conversation continues.
‘We hope that today’s thoughtful, prayerful debate marks a new beginning for the Church as we seek a way forward, listening to each other and most of all to God.
‘Above all we continue to pray, as Jesus himself prayed, for the unity of his church and that we would love one another.’
Dame Sarah, who led the debate, said: ‘I know that what we have proposed as a way forward does not go nearly far enough for many but too far for others
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby had fought back tears last night as he rebuked ‘outsiders’ trying to force the Church of England to change its teaching.
At a debate last night, members had rejected 16 attempts to change the proposal to offer blessings for same-sex couples.
The Synod eventually voted in favour of a motion to offer blessings to same-sex couples in civil partnerships and marriages today.
An emotional Most Rev Justin Welby – who backed blessings for gay couples- criticised politicians who wanted to force through the church’s acceptance of gay marriage.
Drawing on his own experiences being held hostage for his beliefs in Nigeria where he would be ‘killed in the morning’, Welby passionately defended the members of the Anglican Communion standing by their beliefs.
Welby had already said last month that he welcomes the proposals but will not personally carry them out due to his ‘pastoral responsibility for the whole communion’.
Justin Welby referenced being held hostage in Nigeria during his speech
Welby has said he would not personally carry out changes due to his ‘pastoral responsibility for the whole communion’
During the debate, he added: ‘I am supporting these resources, not I think because I’m controlled by culture, but because of scripture, tradition and reason evidenced in the vast work done over the last six years so ably by so many.
‘I may be wrong. Of course I may. But I cannot duck the issue any more than anyone else here.
‘I ask each member of Synod to vote with their spirit-inspired consciences, scripturally or spiritually guided, and not because groups or lobbies or outsiders have told you to.
‘I have heard them over the last two weeks in Parliament and being told exactly what to do, I’m not doing any of it.
‘This isn’t something I take lightly.
‘There is nothing in my life or heart or prayers that comes as high as the safety and flourishing of the people I love in the Anglican communion.’