General Synod approves pension parity for Civil Partnerships

At the conclusion of an extremely good debate in which every speaker voiced unprecedented approval for Civil Partnerships, in a vote by Houses, Synod approved Mark Bratton’s motion unaltered by the amendments proposed by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds and by Philip Giddings. The voting figures were Bishops, for 12, against 2, abstentions 3, Clergy for 97, against 23, abstentions 10, Laity for 78, against 59, abstentions 9.

The motion read:

That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council and the Church of England Pensions Board to bring forward changes to the rules governing the clergy pension scheme in order to go beyond the requirements of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and provide for pension benefits to be paid to the surviving civil partners of deceased clergy on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses.

To be honest, I’m astonished. This isn’t the result I expected. The cumulative effects of the week at Synod from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s apology and very strong comments about the Uganda Bill in his Presidential Address on Tuesday to the Church of Uganda’s decision not to support the Anti-homosexuality Bill to this afternoon’s debate suggest significant movement in the Church of England’s attitude to homosexuality. In the period since gay Tuesday two years ago, the Church seems to have changed its attitude even more radically in understanding the issues of generosity and inclusion which affect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The big issues of equality and inclusion still have to be faced – real quality for LGBT clergy and lay ministers and the celebration of Civil Partnerships in church – but unless I am very mistaken, our church is learning and changing and this is a cause of real thanksgiving and celebration.

The amendments would, from Ripon and Leeds, have offered hardship grants rather than pension equality and from Philip Giddings, have extended equality to any qualifying relative living as a member of the deceased’s household for more than 5 years. Both amendments were lost, the first by 110 to 154, the second on a show of hands.

Giles Goddard was called first in the debate and in a confident maiden speech, said that this was about justice, generosity and care. Stephen Coles declared that he had a strong interest at the beginning of his speech and John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, added strong support.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was strongly affirming of LGBT people in his Presidential Address before offering a profound apology. He said:

The debate over the status and vocational possibilities of LGBT people in the Church is not helped by ignoring the existing facts, which include many regular worshippers of gay or lesbian orientation and many sacrificial and exemplary priests who share this orientation. There are ways of speaking about the question that seem to ignore these human realities or to undervalue them; I have been criticised for doing just this, and I am profoundly sorry for the carelessness that could give such an impression.

He also expressed repugnance at the infamous legislation being discussed in Uganda and in comments about the Anglican Communion, said:

“There is an undoubted good in the independence of local provinces, and there is an undoubted good in the fact that some provinces are increasingly patient, compassionate and thankful in respect of the experience and ministry of gay and lesbian people – entirely in accord with what the Lambeth Conferences and Primates’ statements have said.”

It wasn’t all good news, but throughout this week at Synod, there has been much stronger recognition of the reality of LGBT lives and ministries in our Church and for that, I am quietly thankful to God.

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