Quite a lot of contact is taking place at the moment between staff at Church House and members of parliament, in relation to both women bishops (and the place of women in the church in general) and in relation to the place of LGB&T people in the church and equal marriage and civil partnerships in particular. Changing Attitude and Watch are also in regular contact with MPs.
A process of learning and discovery is taking place on all sides.
The impression of the culture at Church House which MPs are gaining is salutary.
MPs are not being convinced by the answers they are receiving from Church House on LGB&T matters especially. One report said the view in Parliament is that Church House personnel ‘speak with forked tongue’, and that a hidden agenda always lurks behind the words spoken. They do not convince parliamentarians that they really understand the issues affecting LGB&T people in society and the desire for marriage equality.
Parliamentarians find the Church of England position on civil partnerships inconsistent. The Church says it is opposed to gay marriage because marriage by definition includes sex, and they say civil partnerships are definitely not marriage. But – this would look a whole lot more convincing if the Church of England allowed civil partnerships to be celebrated in church. Parliamentarians think Anglican inconsistency reveals an underlying homophobia which is the real reason for the objection to CPs.
I’m reminded of a recent conversation I had in which confidence was expressed in Justin Welby’s appointment, recognizing that he faces a huge task in getting a grip on all the disparate dysfunctional centres of power in the Church of England, and on the “maverick behaviour of apparatchiks in Church House and Lambeth Palace.” The person thought Justin Welby has the ability to achieve quite radical reform in quite a short time. A bishop I spoke with later the same afternoon was equally impressed by Archbishop Justin’s potential but much less optimistic about anyone’s ability to reform the institutional culture of the Church.
Changing Attitude believes the key outcome from the Pilling Review Group must be a recommendation to allow civil partnerships to be celebrated in church and to allow priests and bishops to enter civil partnerships without intrusive questions being asked about sexual behavior.
I wonder whether Sir Joseph Pilling is planning to speak to MPs. Given that the Church of England is the established Church and MPs are already concerned about the Church’s reaction to equal marriage, I think a formal meeting between the Review Group and key MPs, gay, Anglican, gay friendly, is essential.
I have no doubt questions will be asked by the Ecclesiastical Committee should the House of Bishops not announce significant reforms in December which, as I have been arguing for on this blog, really will transform the landscape for LGB&T Anglicans, lay and ordained. Approval of civil partnerships has to be fundamental. We are realistic – we know the Church of England isn’t going to approve equal marriage, this year or next. But that’s our ultimate goal. One day the Church will overcome its aversion to same-sex sexual intimacy.