The Church of England media centre has published a statement by the Rt Rev Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester on the publication of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. The full statement can be read here.
In the course of the statement, Bishop Tim says he welcomes the opportunity that civil partnerships have given to enable same sex couples to mark and celebrate their commitment to each other.
As we know, initially bishops opposed civil partnerships and the majority of those voting in the Lords voted to sabotage the bill. The House of Bishops has subsequently revised its position, reversing it. Does Bishop Tim’s statement represent what is now the official position of the House of Bishops towards civil partnerships and will this be incorporated in the work of Review Group chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling?
Later in the statement, Bishop Tim says he recognises that there is a range of views amongst the membership of the Church of England. This is a welcome change from previous announcements from Church House claiming to represent ‘the view of the Church of England’.
He goes on to say that he does not however believe that holding to a traditional understanding of marriage is, or should be, regarded as a discriminatory position. One central test of this Bill, he says, is whether it will preserve and guarantee religious practice and religious conscience.
There are many members of the Church of England, and many lesbian and gay Anglicans, who are in favour, as Christians, both of civil partnerships and equal marriage. Changing Attitude welcomes Bishop Tim’s desire to preserve and guarantee religious practice and religious conscience.
We hope the House of Bishops will respect those of us who are campaigning for the freedom to contract both civil partnerships and same-sex marriages in church and will guarantee our religious freedom to have our relationships blessed in our parish churches.
Questions in Parliament about Same-sex Marriage
Sir Tony Baldry, The Second Church Estates Commissioner representing the Church Commissioners, was asked questions about same-sex marriage on Thursday. He used the opportunity to clarify one important point.
“The Church of England is not asking for any special treatment or protection under this legislation; the issue is simply that the Bill should be drafted to ensure that the Church of England has the same freedoms as all other Churches and denominations to decide these matters for itself, and that, of course, must reflect the unique legal position of the Church of England.”
Sir Peter Bottomley hoped “that the Church Commissioners will explain to Colin Hart, the self-appointed campaign director of the so-called Coalition for Marriage, that having unity and diversity is a good idea, and that nobody in the Church of England ought to be worried about same-sex couples having the same opportunities of marrying as those of the opposite sex”, reinforcing Changing Attitude’s belief that the Church of England needs to make provision for those of us in favour of marriage equality.
Questions in Parliament about Civil Partnerships
Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter asked what the policy of the Church of England is on celebrating civil partnerships.
Sir Tony Baldry replied:
“The Church of England’s position remains as set out in the House of Bishops pastoral statement of July 2005. A working group chaired by the former Northern Ireland Office permanent secretary, Sir Joseph Pilling, is reviewing the Church’s approach to sexuality more generally and will submit a report to the House of Bishops by the end of this year. A private member’s motion seeking to authorise the registration of civil partnerships in Church of England churches is due for discussion in the General Synod in due course.”
I’m not sure I was aware that a private member’s motion to this effect has been tabled, but if so, I welcome the news and look forward to Synod debating and approving the motion in solidarity with the House of Bishops’ new found support for CPs.
Ben Bradshaw followed up with a second question:
“As the hon. Gentleman will know, a number of senior Church of England bishops have, in the context of the debate on same-sex marriage, expressed their support for civil partnerships, but would the Church of England’s opposition to same-sex marriage, and the distinction it tries to draw, be more credible and have more authority if it allowed Church of England parishes that want to conduct civil partnerships to do so?”
Sir Tony Baldry replied:
“The right hon. Gentleman makes his point well. Given the sensitivity of the issue, the most sensible thing for me to do is to ensure that his comments and those of any other right hon. and hon. Members are drawn to the attention of Sir Joseph Pilling.”