Church Of England Refuses To Budge On Gay Marriage

The Church of England is resisting calls to change its teaching that marriage is exclusively between one man and one woman.

After years of debate and division the CofE's bishops have announced there "are no proposals" to change laws that prevent gay people from getting married in church and prevent clergy from entering into same-sex marriages.

But bishops insist they will offer "maximum freedom" for LGBT couples within the current laws and teaching of the Church, opening the possibility of an official service for gay couples. In a 15-page report published on Friday the bishops called for "a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people".

The Church hierarchy has completed more than two years of private talks in a desperate attempt to heal deep rifts over its prohibition on gay marriage.

The bishops' recommendations will cause fury from the pro-LGBT wing of the Church which wants an official "blessing" for gay relationships, even if a full endorsement of gay marriage is not possible.

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But the bishops rule out a blessing, which would signify approval. The Bishop of Norwich, Rt Rev Graham James, said this was not on the agenda at the moment.

They have however promised a new teaching document on marriage and relationships that would explore what accomodation could be given to gay couples.

The new teaching document will "affirm the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church", a report suggested. But it will offer no concrete changes to teaching.

Current rules over whether clergy can offer prayers or a service to formally welcome gay couples are unclear, the bishops admitted. 

They said they will publish guidance for "appropriate pastoral provision for same sex couples". Details of what this means is not available and the Bishop of Norwich, Rt Rev Graham James, said the bishops would "explore more fully" what the Church will offer gay couples.

The report makes clear the new guidance will "set careful boundaries" and will specify what may and may not take place.

He admitted the document would be "challenging or difficult reading" for gay Christians in the Church.

"No change in doctrine is doctrine is proposed but it is pastoral practice – how we treat people – which matter most," he said. 

The bishops also said they would look at changing how gay clergy are questioned over whether they are sexually active. Under present rules LGBT ordinands must vow to remain celibate, even if in a long term relationship, but heterosexual couples do not face the same questioning. 

Bishop James admitted the current process was "not working well". The report said any questioning about sexual conduct should apply equally to homosexual and heterosexual people. It said the current focus on sexuality led to a "pastorally unhelpful" tickbox attitude.

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