This text is presumably
copyright but is included in full because it will prove to be
a significant statement indicating the capitulation of the House
to liberalism and the revisionist agenda.
Key parts of the text
are marked in red.
A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church
1. On 5 December 2005 the Civil Partnership Act comes into force.
It will for the first time enable two people of the same sex
to acquire a new legal status by registering a civil partnership
with each other. The House of Bishops has prepared this statement
to help the Church as it addresses the pastoral and other implications
of the new legislation.
The Church’s Teaching
2. It has always been the position of the Church of England
that marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation
and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed,
permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and
a woman, is central to the stability and health of human society.
It continues to provide the best context for the raising of children.
3. The Church of England’s teaching is classically summarised
in The Book of Common Prayer, where the marriage service lists
the causes for which marriage was ordained, namely: ‘for
the procreation of children, …for a remedy against sin
[and]…. for the mutual society, help, and comfort that
the one ought to have of the other.’
4. In the light of this understanding the Church of England
teaches that “sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful
intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively" (Marriage:
a teaching document of the House of Bishops, 1999). Sexual relationships
outside marriage, whether heterosexual or between people of the
same sex, are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes
for human beings.
5. The approach of the House of Bishops has been to explore
how the Church’s existing approach to same-sex relationships
can be applied and worked through in the new situation created
by this legislation. We do not repeat here the extensive treatment
of the underlying questions. These were extensively discussed
in the study guide Some Issues in Human Sexuality published in
November 2003. Those questions will continue to be a matter for
debate, in a context which is likely to be influenced to some
degree by the existence, for the first time, of legally registered
6. The key Church statements, each with their own distinctive
status, are rehearsed at more length in paragraphs 1.3.16-33
of Some Issues in Human Sexuality. In summary they are:
- The General Synod motion of November 1987 which affirms that ‘homosexual
genital acts’ fall short of the Christian ideal and are
to be met ‘with a call to repentance and the exercise of
- The House of Bishops’ statement of December 1991 – Issues
in Human Sexuality – which states that ‘heterosexuality
and homosexuality are not equally congruous with the observed
order of Creation or with the insights of revelation as the Church
engages with these in the light of her pastoral ministry’,
that the conscientious decision of those who enter into homophile
relationships must be respected and that the Church must not ‘reject
those who sincerely believe it is God’s call to them’.
Nevertheless, because of ‘the distinctive nature of their
calling, status and consecration’ the clergy ‘cannot
claim the liberty to enter into sexually active homophile relationships’;
- The 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which drew a clear distinction
between homosexual orientation and practice, rejecting the latter
as ‘incompatible with Scripture’ while calling on ‘all
our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all’.
It also recorded that the Conference ‘cannot advise the
legitimising or blessing of same-sex unions nor ordaining those
involved in same gender unions’. This resolution, like
Issues in Human Sexuality, called for continued listening to
the experiences of gay and lesbian people.
7. The Windsor Report 2004 examined the implications for the
Anglican Communion of developments in North America which are
at variance both with the Lambeth Resolution and the declared
teaching of most of the worldwide Church.
The effect of the legislation
8. The new legislation makes no change to the law of the land
in relation to marriage. It remains the case that in law, as
in the eyes of the Church, marriage can be entered into only
by a man and a woman. The Government has stated that it has no
intention of introducing ‘same –sex marriage’.
Civil partnerships are not a form of marriage.
9. The effect of the legislation will be that two people of
the same sex may form a civil partnership by signing a civil
partnership document in the presence of each other, a civil
partnership registrar, and two witnesses. The Act underlines
the civil nature of the registration by providing that it may
not take place on religious premises nor include a religious
10. Many provisions in the new legislation are, however, similar
to or identical with those in marriage law. In particular, couples
may not register if they are under 16 (or under 18 and do not
have parental consent), are within one of the prohibited degrees
of relationship, or already have a civil partnership or are married.
11. The legislation does, however, leave entirely open the nature
of the commitment that members of a couple choose to make to
each other when forming a civil partnership. In particular, it
is not predicated on the intention to engage in a sexual relationship.
Thus there is no equivalent of the marriage law provision either
for annulment on grounds of non-consummation or for its dissolution
as a result of sexual infidelity.
12. Behaviour such that one party ‘cannot reasonably be
expected to live with’ the other can trigger a dissolution.
Whether sexual conduct was relevant would depend on the circumstances
of each case and the nature of the understandings reached between
the couple when entering into the partnership. While many partnerships
will no doubt be between gay and lesbian couples who intend to
be in a sexual relationship, there is likely to be a range of
circumstances in which people of the same sex choose to register
a partnership, including some where this is not so.
13. Civil partners will have the same rights as married couples
in relation to property law, taxation, pensions, etc. Once the
legislation comes into force the current protection in Regulation
25 of the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations
2003 for ‘anything which prevents or restricts access to
a benefit by reference to marital status’ will disappear.
Thus, in future, while it will still be lawful for employers,
for example, to deny cohabiting couples pension benefits which
are available to married couples, it will be unlawful to treat
married couples and civil partners differently.
14. In accordance with the preferences expressed by the Archbishops’ Council
and the House of Bishops, the Government has included certain
enabling provisions in the legislation. These enable the Government,
with the consent of the Church, to amend any provisions in ecclesiastical
legislation (for example in relation to pensions) that would
fall foul of the new law.
15. It remains to be seen what the repercussions of the new
legislation will be in society more generally. The government
has estimated that by 2010 between 11,000 and 22,000 partnerships
may have been registered, though this is necessarily speculative.
Even if these modest estimates are accurate, questions will arise
over what the Church’s attitude should be towards those
who enter into civil partnerships.
The blessing of civil partnerships
16. It is likely that some who register civil partnerships will
seek some recognition of their new situation and pastoral support
by asking members of the clergy to provide a blessing for them
in the context of an act of worship. The House believes that
the practice of the Church of England needs to reflect the pastoral
letter from the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Pentecost
2003 which said:
‘The question of public rites for the blessing of same sex
unions is still a cause of potentially divisive controversy. The
Archbishop of Canterbury spoke for us all when he said that it
is through liturgy that we express what we believe, and that there
is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we
as a body cannot support the authorisation
of such rites’.
17. One consequence
of the ambiguity contained within the new legislation is that
people in a variety of relationships will be eligible to register
as civil partners, some living consistently witseh the teaching
of the Church, others not. In these circumstances it would not
be right to produce an authorised public liturgy in connection
with the registering of civil partnerships. In addition, the
House of Bishops affirms that clergy of the Church of England
should not provide services of blessing for those who register
a civil partnership.
18. It will be important, however, to bear in mind that registered
partnerships do allow for a range of different situations-
including those where the relationship is simply one of friendship.
Hence, clergy need to have regard to the teaching of the
church on sexual morality, celibacy, and the positive value
of committed friendships in the Christian tradition. Where
clergy are approached by people asking for prayer in relation
to entering into a civil partnership they should respond
pastorally and sensitively in the light of the circumstances
of each case.
Those wishing to be in ordained ministry and to register a civil
19. The House of Bishops does not regard entering into a civil
partnership as intrinsically incompatible with holy orders, provided
the person concerned is willing to give assurances to his or
her bishop that the relationship is consistent with the standards
for the clergy set out in Issues in Human Sexuality. The wording
of the Act means that civil partnerships will be likely to include
some whose relationships are faithful to the declared position
of the Church on sexual relationships (see paragraphs 2-7).
20.The Church should not collude with the present assumptions
of society that all close relationships necessarily include sexual
activity. The House of Bishops considers it would be a matter
of social injustice to exclude from ministry those who are faithful
to the teaching of the Church, and who decide to register a civil
partnership. There can be no grounds for terminating the ministry
of those who are loyal to the discipline of the Church.
21.Nevertheless, it would be inconsistent with the teaching
of the Church for the public character of the commitment expressed
in a civil partnership to be regarded as of no consequence in
relation to someone in- or seeking to enter- the ordained ministry.
Partnerships will be widely seen as being predominantly between
gay and lesbian people in sexually active relationships. Members
of the clergy and candidates for ordination who decide to enter
into partnerships must therefore expect to be asked for assurances
that their relationship will be consistent with the teaching
set out in Issues in Human Sexuality.
22. While clergy
are fully entitled to argue, in the continuing debate, for
a change in that teaching, they are not entitled
to claim the liberty to set it aside, simply because of the passage
of the Civil Partnerships Act. Because of the ambiguities surrounding
the character and public nature of civil partnerships, the House
of Bishops would advise clergy to weigh carefully the perceptions
and assumptions which would inevitably accompany a decision to
register such a relationship.
Lay people who register civil partnerships
23.The House considers that lay
people who have registered civil partnerships ought not to
be asked to give assurances about the nature of their relationship
before being admitted to baptism, confirmation and communion. Issues in Human Sexuality made it
clear that, while the same standards apply to all, the
Church did not want to exclude from its fellowship those lay
people of gay or lesbian orientation who, in conscience, were
unable to accept that a life of sexual abstinence was required
of them and instead chose to enter into a faithful, committed
24. The Adoption Act 2003 allows for couples that are not married,
opposite-sex and same-sex, to adopt children. The Civil Partnership
Act includes legislation about children and reflects an expectation
that some people who register civil partnerships will have children
in their care. While the House of Bishops recognises many in
the Church have reservations about these developments, we believe
an unconditional welcome should be given to children in our churches,
regardless of the structure of the family in which they are being
25.In relation to infant baptism, Canon B 22.4 makes it clear
that, while baptism can be delayed for the purposes of instruction
(including on marriage and the family), it cannot be refused.
The responsibility for taking vows on behalf of the infant rests
with the parents and godparents. Provided
there is a willingness, following a period of instruction to
give those vows, priests cannot refuse to baptise simply because
those caring for the infant are not, in their view, living in
accordance with the Church’s teaching.
26.The Government’s decision to introduce civil partnerships
for two people of the same sex has produced a range of reactions
within the Church. There has been support for the remedying of
particular, longstanding injustices for those who have for too
long been the victims of discrimination and prejudice. At the
same time there are concerns that the introduction of civil partnerships
in this form may create fresh anomalies and in practice- even
though not in law- erode the unique position which marriage has
27.What needs to be recognised is that the Church’s teaching
on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage-
that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman - remains
the proper context for sexual activity. In its approach to civil
partnerships the Church will continue to uphold that standard,
to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships
between people of the same sex and to minister sensitively and
pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to
order their lives differently.
25 July 2005