UK: United Reform Church fails to pass same-sex marriage

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The United Reform Church has failed to become the first mainstream church in the UK to permit same-sex weddings, delaying a decision until next year.

The United Reform Church – which has around 68,000 members in 1500 congregations across the UK – was discussing a proposal in its General Assembly to allow same-sex wedding ceremonies in churches.

According to last year’s Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act, churches must opt in to providing same-sex marriage ceremonies, while the Church of England and the Church of Wales are both legally barred from doing so.

Earlier this week the URC’s 300 delegates discussed the issue and expressed broad support, though a vocal minority strongly opposed to the ceremonies, and insisted the church should not endorse “redefining marriage”.

It a vote had been held on the issue it would likely have passed the Assembly, but the church used rules requiring “full consensus” to block a majority ruling.

In a statement today, the URC said: “A clear majority of members of Assembly expressed the view that local congregations should be permitted to offer same-sex marriage to those who seek that opportunity.

“However, because our decision-making process is based on the seeking of full consensus, Assembly was unable to reach agreement.

“Assembly therefore resolves to pursue this discussion in the most constructive and consultative way that it can, as follows:

“(1) to invite synods and local congregations (a) to reflect on the report of the Facilitation Group, (b) to discuss whether they would wish a future meeting of the Assembly to authorise local church meetings to offer same-sex marriage services, and (c) to report their views to the General Secretary by 31st March 2015.

“(2) to authorise the officers of Assembly to furnish these discussions with appropriate resources, including an offer of the support of facilitators.”

If it had passed same-sex marriage, the United Reform Church would have joined the ranks of the Quakers and the Unitarian Church, who have already approved same-sex marriage.

During the discussion, Reverend Fiona Bennett of the Augustine United Church in Edinburgh, had said: “I am asking for grace. By allowing churches to opt in, we create space for diversity to hold our unity.”

However, David Thompson – a former moderator of the URC General Assembly – urged for the church to take time to develop a way of proceeding, claiming that the “fullest attempts” should be made to “discover the mind of other councils and churches likely to be affected.”

A transgender delegate said: “If we draw distinctions between same sex and opposite sex marriages we risk outing people, judging people on their genitalia rather than their hearts, souls and minds. [The assembly should] consider the realities of people of all genders, including people who are transgender but also people of God.”

Same-sex marriage is currently permitted in England and Wales, and is due to come into effect in Scotland later this year.

The Northern Irish government has no current plans to introduce same-sex marriage.