Church to vote on financial benefits for gay partners of clergy

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

The Church of England will vote next month on whether to give more benefits to the civil partners of gay clergy.

According to the Sunday Telegraph, bishops and senior clergy in the General Synod will look at the proposal to give gay couples the same financial benefits afforded to straight married couples.

Gay clergy may enter a civil partnership as long as they promise to remain celibate.

The benefits relate to pensions paid to surviving spouses of deceased clergy members.

Currently, straight surviving spouses can receive pension benefits based on the entire length of service, but gay spouses can only receive benefits depending on the length of service from 2004, the date of civil partnerships legislation.

Concerns have been raised that making the change could cost the church millions, as its pension scheme is already in financial trouble.

The Rev Jonathan Clark, a trustee of the liberal Inclusive Church group, said the church must support the move.

“Given that it is legitimate for clergy to be in civil partnerships, we should treat them in the same way as people who are married to each other,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.

“Making provision for civil partners is not the church making a big change to its moral or ethical teaching.”

However, conservatives said the move would give more recognition to gay couples and further the divide in the communion over the issue.

Alison Ruoff, a former magistrate and a member of the General Synod, criticised the idea.

“It wouldn’t be right for the church to provide gay clergy’s partners with the same pensions as it would mean that the Church would be recognising homosexual relationships in the same way as marriage,” she told the newspaper.

“It would show that the church is becoming increasingly liberal and moving further from Biblical teaching.”

Since the Civil Partnerships Act came into law, an estimated 200 clergy members have become civil partners.

Last August, reported that a number of progressive groups in the church are pushing for gay ordinations of bishops and same-sex blessings.

They plan to fight for a liberal majority of seats in the General Synod in order to turn the church around to full acceptance of gays.

The groups also plan to conduct an anonymous survey of clergy to find out how many are LGBT, how many are in same-sex relationships and whether they have performed same-sex blessings. They estimate that 20 per cent of clergy in London are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans.

Rev Canon Giles Goddard, the chair of Inclusive Church, told “We need more accurate figures. In London, north of the Thames, we estimate 20 per cent of clergy are LGBT. In Southwark, ten to 20 per cent. That’s probably 100 out of 500 in London.”

The church is currently facing a schism over homosexuality. Last year, the US Anglican Church rejected a moratorium on consecrating new gay bishops and Mary Glasspool was elected assistant bishop of Los Angeles.

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams criticised her appointment. He has criticised the “lifestyle” of homosexuality in the past and suggested the church may have to accept “two styles” of Anglicanism, one liberal and one conservative.