The Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, addressed the question of the Church of England’s opposition to equal marriage, and the issue of whether or not it will bless civil unions, asking if the issue has been “given enough space”.
Speaking against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in the House of Lords today, the Archbishop called the legislation an “abuse of language”, and backed an amendment to differentiate between opposite sex “traditional” marriage, and same-sex marriage.
He said that unions between gay couples was a “matter which will need to be discussed”. Some took this as a signal that the Church of England may drastically change its stance, once a review it is conducting reports back later in 2013.
The legislation ensures that any religious organisations could opt-out of performing same-sex marriages if they so wished, and a quadruple lock is in place, which means the Church of England is exempt from performing them.
Dr Sentamu said, however; that the legislation would cause “ideological damage”, and compared politicians supporting the legislation to “ill-prepared midwifes at the birth of a new institution”.
He went on to question the Church’s attitude against blessing committed gay couples, asking: “What do you do with people in same sex relationships that are committed, that are loving, that are Christian?”.
“Would you rather bless a sheep and a tree but not them? That is a big question to which we are going to come and the moment is not now. We are dealing with legislation as we’ve got.”
The Church of England still officially bans civil partnership ceremonies, as well as priests being banned from performing formal blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, despite fierce criticism from within its own ranks.
The Bishop of Buckingham, the Right Reverend Dr Alan Wilson, earlier this year criticised the Church of England’s refusal to allow blessings for civil partnerships, and said that some parishes were ignoring the ban in order to avoid conflict.
He said that dozens of churches across the country were going against the ban on blessing civil unions, however, some churches offered services, but denied they were breaking the rules
There is mounting pressure for the church to give its formal approval to civil union blessings, however it would be required to be backed by the General Synod, which meets in York in July.
The Church of England said after last week’s House of Lords second reading on the equal marriage bill, that it accepts that there is a clear majority in Parliament to introduce same-sex marriage and that it will therefore end its opposition to changing the law.
A commission on sexuality, chaired by former civil service mandarin Sir Joseph Pilling, will report to the Church towards the end of this year.