LONDON (Agence France-Presse) — British same-sex couples who “marry” by way of a form of civil partnership beginning later this year will not be able to have their unions blessed by Church of England clergy, bishops ruled yesterday.
Although people entering same-sex civil partnerships should be dealt with “pastorally and sensitively,” clergy “should not provide services of blessing,” the church’s House of Bishops said in a statement.
Full same-sex “marriages” are not permitted in Britain. However, after Dec. 5, homosexual couples will be able to have “civil partnerships” recognized under law, allowing them some of the same tax and inheritance benefits enjoyed under marriage.
Singer Elton John announced in April that he and longtime partner David Furnish wanted to be among the first couples to take advantage of the law.
Guidelines drawn up by the Church of England and published yesterday warn that in giving a legal status to homosexual couples, the procedure may act to “erode the unique position” of marriage.
The House of Bishops said that homosexual clergy who intend to enter a civil partnership will be expected to check with their bishop and also to offer assurances that they will remain chaste.
“There has been support for the remedying of particular, long-standing injustices for those who have for too long been the victims of discrimination and prejudice,” said the statement yesterday from a working party led by Bishop of Norwich Graham James.
“At the same time there are concerns that the introduction of civil partnerships in this form may create fresh anomalies and in practice — even though not in law — erode the unique position which marriage has previously occupied.”
The church would continue to “affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships between people of the same sex,” it added.
The issue of homosexuality is one of the most contentious facing the modern Anglican Church and one that has threatened to split it down the middle.
Divisions have been heightened since the U.S. Episcopal Church in 2003 endorsed the election of an openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson, in the diocese of New Hampshire.
At the same time, the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver, British Columbia, became the first in the Anglican communion to introduce a service of blessing for same-sex couples.
In October, a report into the Bishop Robinson affair called on the Episcopal Church to apologize and demanded that such an event not happen again.
The ruling yesterday was attacked by campaigners fighting for the church to fully recognize same-sex relationships.
“This statement is perfectly consistent with the Church of England’s policy of double dealing, duplicity and disregard for decency,” said the Rev. Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.