Author(s)Ros Clarke
Date 8 March 2023
Category Sex and gender

A woman in a white wedding dress laughs as she looks up into a cloud of rainbow confetti. She stands at the entrance to a church, holding hands with her partner, surrounded by friends, family and photographers. The photo is shared on Twitter with the notice that they are now Revd and Mrs X.

But this is not a wedding. It cannot legally be a wedding, because Revd and Mrs X are both women. A later clarification tells us that they are in a civil partnership, and the Twitter bio confusingly reads: "Civilly Partnered to my Wife..."

This is not a new thing, of course. In 2018, two male ordinands had a service in church following their civil partnership that strongly resembled a wedding. Many Church of England parishes have been conducting such services for some time, in contradiction to the church's stated position:

Church of England ministers can not carry out or bless same-sex marriages, but your local church is still there for you. At any time you are welcome to come and pray with us, or ask us to pray for you.

But surely this has now changed? Isn't that what all the headlines have been about over the last few months?

Well, no.

The bishops have proposed a draft set of prayers that might be used in such circumstances but:

  1. These prayers are still in their draft form, being revised
  2. These prayers won't be commended until the accompanying pastoral guidance is published
  3. These prayers will not contradict the Church of England's current teaching on marriage
  4. These are prayers of blessing on individuals, not on relationships
  5. The teaching that all sex outside marriage is sinful has not changed
  6. The teaching that marriage is only for one man/one woman has not changed.

If a same sex couple approach a church to have a service of blessing on their relationship, these things need to be made as clear to them as they were to General Synod:

  1. Their relationship can't be blessed, though they can be as individuals
  2. The assumption is that their relationship is celibate, because sin can't be blessed
  3. None of this can happen yet, anyway, because nothing has been agreed or commended which would allow it.

If a same sex couple including an ordinand or ordained person wants such a blessing, it should also be pointed out that Issues in Human Sexuality is still legally in force, and therefore they must make a declaration to their bishop that their relationship is celibate.

This does not sound absolutely like the radical new inclusion that Justin Welby has been advocating for. In fact, it sounds like a car crash. No wonder that what is being proposed does not satisfy anyone. It is not welcoming to LGBT people and in many ways, because of the lack of clarity, it is deeply unkind. Nor, of course, is it satisfactory to those of us who actually believe the Church of England's teaching on marriage. Honouring something sinful with these mockeries of marriage is profoundly offensive.

Will Revd and Mrs X, and the clergyperson who performed their blessing be disciplined in any way? Probably not.

Does that make what has happened legal within the Church of England? No.