Making his first speech to the General Synod of the Church of England as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has admitted that the Church of England’s opposition to equal marriage was “utterly overwhelmed” by those who support equality for same-sex couples. He also said that the Church must do more to tackle homophobic bullying in its schools.

Speaking in the last hour, Archbishop Welby said: “The cultural and political ground is changing. Anyone who listened to much of the same-sex marriage bill second reading debate in the House of Lords could not fail to be struck by the overwhelming change of cultural hinterland. Predictable attitudes were no longer there. The opposition to the bill was utterly overwhelmed, with amongst the largest attendance and participation and majority since 1945. There was noticeable hostility to the view of the churches.

“Some of what was said [in the equal marriage debate] was uncomfortably close to the bone. The majority of the population rightly detests homophobic behaviour or anything that looks like it. It is utterly horrifying to hear of gay people executed in Iran, or equivalents elsewhere. With nearly a million children educated in our schools we not only must demonstrate a profound commitment to stamp out such stereotyping and bullying. We are therefore developing a programme for use in our schools, taking the best advice we can get, that specifically targets such bullying. More than that we need also to ensure that what we do and say demonstrates the lavish love of God to all of us, who are without exception sinners. Again this requires radical and prophetic words which lavish grace while holding to truth.”

In the House of Lords debate before he voted against the same-sex marriage bill, Archbishop Welby said: “Marriage is abolished, redefined and recreated, being different and unequal for different categories. The new marriage of the bill is an awkward shape, with same gender and different gender categories scrunched into it, neither fitting well. The concept of marriage as a normative place for procreation is lost. The idea of marriage as covenant is diminished.”

In Friday’s Synod speech, he added: “There have been many times where the Church of England felt that change was in the air or this was a moment of crisis. Because we are not an organisation, let alone a business, or even an institution but in reality the people of God gathered by the Holy Spirit to walk together in a way that leads to the greater glory of God, there are bound to be many crises and turning points.”

Discussions to allow civil partnership ceremonies in Anglican churches appear were dropped ahead of Friday’s Synod meeting. 

Equality campaigners believe the postponement reflects an “appalling” reluctance by some in the Church hierarchy to openly debate the issue of same-sex relationships.

But others believe it could reflect a behind the scenes shift at the top of the Church of England which they are convinced could open the way for an historic change in its approach to same-sex relationships by the end of this year.

Human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell, director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, said to PinKNews.co.uk: “While Archbishop Welby’s condemnation of homophobia is commendable, it not consistent with his endorsement of homophobic discrimination in marriage law. He has missed an opportunity to show his support for full gay equality.”

In April, Archbishop Welby held a meeting with Peter Tatchell, who urged him towards greater understanding of the LGBT community.

After the meeting, Mr Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk: “Archbishop Welby is clearly struggling to reconcile his support for loving, stable same-sex relationships with his opposition to same-sex marriage. I got the impression that he wants to support gay equality but feels bound by church tradition.”