Church of England votes against same-sex marriage report
Clergy closely reject bishops’ document calling for continued ban on gay marriage
The Church of England general synod at Church House in London, where a document upholding church teaching on same-sex marriage was narrowly defeated. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
Gay rights campaigners protest outside Church House, the venue of the Church of England’s general synod. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images
The general synod of the Church of England has rejected a report from its bishops calling for the church’s ban on same-sex marriage to be maintained but for a “fresh tone” towards gays and lesbians. The report won the support of bishops and lay representatives at the synod, which is the church’s legislative body, but was rejected by representatives of the clergy.
The bishops backed the report by 43 votes to 1 and the laity by 106-83, but the clergy rejected it by 100-93. Under the synod’s rules, the report needed the support of all three groups to be accepted.
The report, which followed two years of consultations within the church, said that marriage should continue to be defined as a union between a man and a woman and said that same-sex unions should not be blessed in church.
However, the bishops said the church’s law should be interpreted “to permit maximum freedom within it”, without changing church doctrine. They called for a fresh tone and culture of “welcome and support” for lesbian and gay people, as well as guidance for clergy about appropriate pastoral provision for same-sex couples.
Before the vote, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that, regardless of the fate of their report, the bishops would have to continue thinking about the issues it addressed.
“The current report is not the end of the story,” he said. “We will, as the bishops, think again and go on thinking. We will seek to do better.”
As LGBT groups protested outside the meeting at Church House in Westminster, the Bishop of Willesden, Pete Broadbent, apologised for the tone of the report.
“I don’t want to make excuses for the House of Bishops document,” he said. “I do want to apologise to those members of synod who found our report difficult, who didn’t recognise themselves in it, who had expected more from us than we actually delivered, for the tone of the report.
“On behalf of the House, and without being trite or trivial, I’m sorry,” Bishop Broadbent said.
The issues of homosexuality, same-sex marriage and gay clergy have divided the Church of England and the broader Anglican Communion for more than a quarter of a century.
The church backed the 1957 Wolfenden Report and the campaign to decriminalise homosexuality. But the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James, acknowledged the church’s difficulty in reconciling its determination to uphold its traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality with its wish to affirm the place of gays and lesbians within the church.
“I would be misleading you if I did not confess to being conflicted in presenting this report but, in that, I think I am far from alone among the bishops and in the wider Church of England,” he said.
“Our own history in dealing with these matters also explains why people on all sides of the debate rarely find themselves satisfied.”