Church of Ireland delegates defeat motion on public service for same-sex couples

General Synod debate on proposal to develop public thanksgiving service for legally married same-sex couples

A motion that Church of Ireland bishops investigate developing a public thanksgiving service for legally married same-sex couples was defeated at the church's General Synod on Friday night.

It followed a debate where speakers divided along North-South lines, with all speakers from the South in favour and almost all Northern speakers opposed.

Proposing the motion Dr Leo Kilroy of Glendalough diocese said: "many lesbian and gay people continue to feel gravely hurt by this church. They have been injured by the lack of compassion shown by some, who cling to a small number of disparate and disputed verses that exist in pockets of the Bible, and claim a divine rejection of gay people."

He said: “while there is no evidence in the gospels that Jesus Christ said anything one way or another about gay people, there are however, plenty of examples of how Jesus modelled for us the need to include all. In the Bible we see his loathing for stigmatisation”.


Lesbian and gay people were among today’s examples of people on the fringes, he said.

‘Impossible’ motion

Speaking of his own experience as a gay man, he said he struggled to accept his sexual orientation. “Much of that struggle was down to the rejection and stigmatisation of other Christians. I tried to suppress my sexuality, which only resulted in hurt both to me and to other people in my life.”

Ten years ago he met his partner and “six years ago, we entered into a civil partnership and last year a civil marriage”. Both were “committed Christians” and “it was a matter of great upset and sadness to us that pastoral support was not available to us in our church. Across the church, I know of a great many other couples who have felt similar hurt and disappointment,” he said.

Rev Trevor Johnston of Connor diocese thought the motion "impossible" as "inbuilt into it is discrimination against those who didn't act on their same sex attraction".

Canon Maurice Elliott of Down and Dromore diocese and director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute believed passing the motion would be "immensely detrimental" to partnerships with other churches in the Anglican communion.

Also opposing the motion, Rev Alison Calvin of Kilmore diocese said at times "I feel I am being bullied. It's not fair that my deeply held convictions are portrayed as those of a narrow-minded bigot".

Teachings on marriage

Rev Barry Forde of Connor diocese said “there is a theological issue at stake” and that the motion “impinges on Canon 31” concerning the church’s traditional teaching on marriage.

Supporting the motion Elaine Murray from Cork diocese said "the question comes down to love, not gender".

Rev Brendan McCarthy of Kilmore diocese said he had come to believe he had been wrong concerning LGBT people and that he had been in part a cause of their pain, “unintended but real”.

Dean of Waterford Maria Jansson said: "I support this motion because as a priest I am answerable to God. That alone matters."

Rev Gillian Wharton of Dublin diocese said the same arguments which had been used to oppose women priests were now being used on same sex issues within the church.

Clergy and laity voted separately with 72 clergy opposing, 56 in support and nine abstaining. Of the laity 104 opposed, 90 were in support, and 15 abstained. The House of Bishops did not take part in the debate or vote as the motion was directed towards them.

Before that debate, and after four years of discussion without resolution, the church’s select committee on human sexuality recommended “that the bishops further examine the unresolved theological differences as represented in the select committee, with a view to making a proposal to facilitate a way forward”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is a contributor to The Irish Times