Church of England to bless gay couples but they still cannot marry in church

The Church of England has said it will bless same-sex, civil marriages for the first time after its bishops proposed to change its stance on same-sex relationships.

But its position on gay marriage will not change and same-sex couples will still not be able to marry in Church of England churches.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said the decision was an attempt to “seek the common good” but admitted it would “go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others”.

The plans, to be outlined in a report to the General Synod, which meets in London next month, will allow same-sex couples to come to church for services including prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and God’s blessing following a legal marriage ceremony.

Mr Welby said: “This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage – I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church.

“I am under no illusions that what we are proposing today will appear to go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others, but it is my hope that what we have agreed will be received in a spirit of generosity, seeking the common good.

“Most of all I hope it can offer a way for the Church of England, publicly and unequivocally, to say to all Christians and especially LGBTQI+ people that you are welcome and a valued and precious part of the body of Christ.”

The synod will be asked to discuss the proposals in detail during its meeting from February 6 to 9, with the main debate on the proposals due to take place on February 8.

The bishops’ decision, which does not represent a formal change in doctrine, comes after they finalised a report into the church’s position on sexuality following five years of debate and consultation.

They will issue a formal apology on Friday to LGBTQ+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have felt within the church because of its previous stance.

The church said it was issuing pastoral guidance to its ministers and congregations and urged them to welcome same-sex couples “unreservedly and joyfully”.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “We are deeply sorry and ashamed and want to take this opportunity to begin again in the spirit of repentance which our faith teaches us.

“This is not the end of that journey but we have reached a milestone and I hope that these prayers of love and faith can provide a way for us all to celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships.”

The bishops’ proposals will be debated by the synod when it meets early next month.

Jayne Ozanne, a prominent LGBTQ+ campaigner and a member of the synod, said the bishops’ decision not to allow same-sex marriages was “utterly despicable”.

She said: “I cannot believe that five years of pain and trauma has got us here. We have had countless apologies over the years but no action to stop the harmful discrimination.

“It is insulting to all who trusted the process. There is absolutely nothing radical or inclusive about these proposals.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in England and Wales since 2013, but the church did not change its teaching when the law changed.

The Anglican Church in Wales has allowed its clergy to bless same-sex marriages and civil partnerships since September 2021.

Labour former cabinet minister Ben Bradshaw told the House of Commons: “You may have heard that today the Church of England bishops have recommended no substantial change to the church’s current ban on same-sex couples being married in church in England, although this is, of course, already possible in Scotland and soon will be in Wales.

“Many members across this House, I would judge a majority, believe that by continuing to exclude lesbian and gay people from its full rights, the church is no longer compatible with its established status, which confers the duty to serve the whole nation.”

Conservative MP Andrew Selous, the Church of England’s representative in the House of Commons, was encouraged by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle to make a statement to MPs on Monday.