Most members in favour, but URC votes 'no' to gay marriage ceremonies

AP

Despite the majority of delegates being in favour, the United Reformed Church has failed to reach a full consensus on same-sex marriage, and it will therefore not offer ceremonies to gay couples wishing to wed.

The URC's General Assembly discussed the proposal to officiate gay weddings during its annual meeting in Cardiff last week, but it required unanimous agreement to pass and a group of around 300 delegates opposed the move.

"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," General Secretary Rev John Proctor revealed in a statement following the meeting.

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

The URC already permits civil-partnership ceremonies within its church buildings.  Had the Assembly reached a unanimous agreement, it would have been the first mainstream church to permit same-sex weddings – following in the footsteps of the Quakers and the Unitarian Church.

Many in the URC believe that the provision for same-sex marriages would allow for greater diversity within the body of Christ.

Appealing for "grace", Reverend Fiona Bennett of the Augustine United Church in Edinburgh – which is described as "LGBT-affirming" – declared before the Assembly: "By allowing churches to opt in, we create space for diversity to hold our unity.

"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," added a transgender delegate.

"[The Church must] consider the realities of people of all genders, including people who are transgender but also people of God."

Another gay delegate added: "Allow us to welcome God's queer folk to the feast of marriage." 

Others, however, contend that allowing same-sex couples to wed would mean a redefinition of the biblical understanding of marriage and they therefore chose to block the proposal.

A law allowing same-sex couples to wed in England and Wales took effect on March 29 of this year, although legislation protects religious groups from facing legal action if they choose not to conduct gay marriages. They may, however, choose to 'opt-in' to the law.

In February, the Church of England's House of Bishops issued guidelines forbidding bishops, clergy and laity from entering into same-sex marital unions.

"It would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church's teaching in their lives," a statement from the Church read.

"We are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged."

According to the URC's media team, a facilitation group is to be appointed which will "help the Church to seek a way forward". Individual congregations have been instructed to "reflect" upon and discuss the issue of gay marriage before reporting back to the General Secretary by 31 March 2015.

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