Church of England proposes 'blessings' for gay marriage

Thu Nov 28, 2013 11:57am EST
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By Belinda Goldsmith

LONDON (Reuters) - Church of England clergy would be able to "bless" same-sex relationships under long-awaited proposals unveiled on Thursday as the church adopts a more open - but disputed - approach to homosexuality.

Although gay couples would still not be able to legally marry in a church, the proposed change would officially sanction clergy to let gay and lesbian couples mark and celebrate same-sex marriages and civil partnerships in a church service.

Critics swiftly condemned the "blessing" proposal as contrary to the church's teaching on sexual conduct.

The proposal was among 18 recommendations put forward by a working group set up two years ago amid growing tension over the church's approach to gay worshippers and clergy but could take up to two years of discussions before becoming policy.

Acknowledging the issue was divisive, group chairman Joseph Pilling said the church needed to reflect rapid changes in society as senior clergy express fears of a looming crisis, with falling attendance rates and failure to attract young people.

This year, parliament introduced new laws to allow gay marriages from 2014 after legalizing civil partnerships in 2005 and the church dropped its ban on gay clergy in civil partnerships becoming bishops.

"You can make a church a cold place for gay and lesbian people ... or you can make it a more warm and accepting place," Pilling told a news conference.

"No member of the clergy, or parish, would be required to offer such services and it could not extend to solemnizing same sex marriages without major changes to the law."   Continued...

The new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby speaks to the congregation during a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral, in Canterbury, southern England March 21, 2013. REUTERS/Gareth Fuller/Pool