A group of leading clergymen of the Anglican Church have, in a letter to the Times, said that equal marriage is a cause to celebrate, and that the Church of England has “nothing to fear” on account of extending marriage to same-sex couples.

In the letter, several prominent figures, including five former bishops, have written that recent statements by “church leaders past and present” may give people the wrong impression that the Church as a whole is against equal marriage. “Marriage is a robust institution,” the letter continues, “which has adopted much over the centuries. It has moved beyond the polygamy of the Old Testament and preoccupation with social status and property in pre-Enlightenment times. While the Prayer Book states that marriage was ordained first for “the procreation of children” the modern marriage service begins by emphasising the quality of relationship between marriage partners “that they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind”.

“That there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage should be cause for rejoicing in the Christian Church,” the letter adds.

A leading signatory of the letter is Dr Jeffrey John, the openly gay dean of St Albans, whose appointment as Bishop of Reading in 2003 had to be withdrawn due to protest from conservative factions within the Church. Other signatories include Canon Giles Goddard of the General Synod, the suffragan bishop of Buckingham, and the deans of Norwich, Guildford and Portsmouth.

“We believe the Church has nothing to fear from… civil marriage for same-sex couples,” the letter continues, saying it “will be for the churches to then decide how they respond pastorally.” It also welcomed recent statements by the Bishop of Salisbury and the new Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral calling on the Church to support equal marriage for same-sex couples.

The government consultation to extend civil marriages to same-sex couples by 2015 has drawn considerable criticism from traditional factions within the Catholic Church, some Tory MPs, and Muslim leaders in Scotland. However, it has also drawn criticism from pro-equality members of religious groups, as it proposes to exclude same-sex couples from any religious wedding ceremonies. The consultation will officially end in June.

We reproduce the entire letter for our readers below:

Sir,

A number of recent statements by church leaders past and present may have given the mistaken impression that the Church is universally opposed to the extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples. We believe that does not adequately reflect the range of opinion which exists within the Church of England.

Marriage is a robust institution which has adapted much over the centuries. It has moved beyond the polygamy of the Old Testament and preoccupation with social status and property in pre-Enlightenment times.

While the Prayer Book states that marriage was ordained first for ‘the procreation of children’ the modern marriage service begins by emphasising the quality of relationship between marriage partners ‘that they shall be united with one another in heart, body and mind.’

The Church calls marriage holy or sacramental because the covenant relationship of committed, faithful love between the couple reflects the covenanted love and commitment between God and his Church. Growing in this kind of love means we are growing in the image of God. So the fact that there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage should be a cause for rejoicing in the Christian Church.

We welcome current moves by the House of Bishops to consider again its view of civil partnerships and human sexuality. We hope this will lead to a recognition of God’s grace at work in same-sex partnerships and call on the Church to engage in theological discussion and prayerful reflection on the nature of marriage.

We also welcome recent reported statements by the Bishop of Salisbury and the new Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral calling on the Church to affirm same-sex couples who want to take on the commitment of marriage.

It is our belief that the Church of England has nothing to fear from the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples. It will be for the churches to then decide how they should respond pastorally to such a change in the law.

Sincerely

Canon Giles Goddard, General Synod, Southwark
The Very Rev Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans

The Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham
The Rt Rev Michael Doe
The Rt Rev John Gladwin
The Rt Rev Lord Harries of Pentregarth
The Rt Rev Peter Selby
The Rt Rev David Stancliffe

The Very Rev David Brindley, Dean of Portsmouth
The Very Rev Graham Smith, Dean of Norwich
The Very Rev Victor Stock, Dean of Guildford

Mrs April Alexander, General Synod, Southwark
The Rev Stephen Coles, General Synod, London
The Rev Clair Herbert, General Synod, London
Mr John Ward LLB, General Synod, London