Church of England takes step towards introducing blessings for same-sex couples

A queer, same-sex couple wear white outfits as they attend a wedding and hold each other's hands

The Church of England (CoE) is working on drafting new pastoral guidance and other materials needed to allow same-sex couples to receive blessings from priests. 

The General Synod, the church’s governing body, held a four-hour debate on Saturday (8 July) to hear the views of members on proposals to enable same-sex couples to come to church and have a prayer service after a civil marriage or civil partnership. 

Bishop of London Sarah Mullally and Bishop of Truro Philip Mounstephen, co-chairs of the steering group overseeing the implementation of changes after February’s landmark vote, said they were “very grateful to Synod Members for their thoughtful contributions” during Saturday’s debate.

“It has been good to hear their reflections, and we will take these away to feed into the concentrated drafting work that starts now,” Mullally and Mounstephen said. “We look forward to reconvening in November.”

Since the debate in February – which saw proposals for same-sex marriage blessings “welcomed” – a draft set of texts, known as Prayers of Love and Faith, have been refined and new pastoral guidance developed for the CoE, according to updates on the Church’s website

Among the 226 responses received from the Synod on the blessings, 148 were classified as generally positive while 78 were considered negative. 

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The most significant critical comments were that the prayers were too much like marriage (60 responses), they didn’t go far enough (44 responders) and that more pastoral guidance would be required for their use (42 responses). 

The CoE, which doesn’t allow same-sex marriages in its churches, doubled down on its ban for same-sex marriages in January but set out proposals to let queer couples have a prayer service after a civil marriage or partnership.

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It also apologised to LGBTQ+ people for the rejection and hostility they’ve faced

In February, all three houses – bishops, clergy and House of Laity – of the Synod voted in favour of the blessings for same-sex couple for the first time in the CoE’s history. 

The meeting of the Synod was protested by LGBTQ+ Christians, who stood outside the Synod’s meeting place in London on 8 February with placards denouncing what some described as “crumbs” for queer people of faith. 

LGBTQ+ Christians hold up a sign reading "discrimination is not a Christian value" as they hold a protest outside a Church of England Synod meeting on blessings for same-sex couples
LGBTQ+ Christians said it’s ‘shameful’ the Church of England would allow blessings for same-sex couples but not marriages. (Getty)

Protestors told PinkNews it was “cr*p”, “an insult”, “apparent discrimination” and “shameful” to offer blessings to queer couples rather than marriage. 

On Thursday (6 July), Labour MP Ben Bradshaw published a draft bill that would allow the CoE to conduct same-sex marriages.

Bradshaw said the bill would permit same-sex marriage within the church under “certain circumstances”, and he reassured opponents of the bill that no one would be “compelled by any means” to conduct or attend a same-sex wedding. 

“Given the Church of England has broken its promise to finalise same-sex blessings and new rules for gay clergy at this month’s synod and the high level of concern in parliament about this,” Bradshaw said, “I thought it would be helpful to publish the full draft of my bill, which, if these unacceptable delays continue, parliament might wish to pick up in the next session.”

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