Speaking to the Public Bills Committee on Thursday to give evidence in favour of equal marriage, Dr Jeffrey John, the openly gay Dean of St Albans, said he thought it would be “more Christian” to allow individual parishes to make up their own minds on equal marriage.
Dr John said that he hoped that eventually individual parishes would be allowed to conscientiously decide whether to marry gay couples, which would represent a “more genuinely Christian” position.
Asked by Ben Bradshaw, “You say you wouldn’t want the church to be forced to do anything, but what about a permissive regime within the Church of England that allowed individual parishes that wanted to…?”
He responded: “I hope that is where we end up… There is a complete block on progress at the moment, and that is what is so inequitable at the moment.
“We would be in a much more genuinely Anglican, and Christian position, if people were allowed to follow their conscience on this.”
Giving evidence alongside Alice Arnold, who said that she thought there would be a reduction in homophobia if same-sex couples were allowed to marry, Dr John said marriage would be no different for straight couples, even if it were to be legal for gay ones.
He said: “I wish it weren’t government and parliament doing it alone on the face of objections from the church.
“Marriage stays the same we just make a decision about admitting a different person to it.” He then made the comparison between the Church of England changing to allow women to be ordained, and equal marriage.
He went on to say that he could hear “noises in the wings” of the church, which made him “hopeful” about blessing same-sex marriages, and that he thought the delay was more political than theological.
When asked by Kwasi Kwarteng how he felt about the quadruple lock, which means the Church of England can’t perform same-sex marriages, Dr John said he was disappointed that the church felt it needed that protection.
“I think it’s highly regrettable that the church feels the need to have these quadruple locks. My main worry about it, frankly, is the image of the church that it puts to ordinary people.
“My fear is people will judge God by the church on this. God is infinitely more compassionate and positive about gay people than the church is, in my view. The love of gay people comes from God.
“The church is horribly misrepresenting God in opposing that. I am very unhappy. I can see that, in the political situation of the church as it is, I can understand why it is being demanded, but I am very fearful that the church is forgetting its own gospel in demanding that.”
When asked if he would remove the quadruple lock, he said: “I wouldn’t want to amend the bill to force it on the church, I don’t think that would be right. It is up to people like me to argue with the church, and try to help it move along to a more Christian position.”
Dr John said that, on procreation, as an argument against equal marriage that: “Scripturally not the first purpose” for marriage, and that “companionship” was now the primary modern reason.
He also brought up the argument that the church always marries couples beyond the age of bearing children, saying that made the argument about procreation inapplicable.
With regards to civil partnerships, Dr John said that he thought they should either be extended to all couples, but out of a fear that they would become “marriage light”, with a “lower level of fidelity”, it may be best to withdraw civil partnerships altogether.
He said he wanted civil partnerships to be “equally unavailable” to gay and straight couples, and that he just wanted fairness.
He said that he thought civil partnerships should be available to “both [gay and straight] couples”, or that civil partnerships should be withdrawn, and people already in civil partnerships should be allowed the option to “convert” to a marriage.
When asked by Jim shannon about teachers and registrars who don’t agree with equal marriage, Dr John said that “Teachers must not “foment negative attitudes”, and that he accepted that some people would have a “christian” opposition to equal marriage.
He went on to say that he hoped there would be a “humane” handing of registrars who may not agree with performing equal marriages, and that he hoped they wouldn’t just be sacked.
He also expressed a fear of trying to “appease” African churches, to keep them on board, and that the Church of England’s reaction to the bill could partly be explained by that.
He said he was not a “lone voice”, and that “a majority of people in the church agree with me… We are very much moving in that direction”.
He also said that a “significant part” of the church’s leadership would agree with him on equal marriage, but that they were scared to say so in public.