Ahead of same-sex marriage becoming legal in England and Wales next month, the Church of England has confirmed that it will not bless or recognise same-sex weddings.
In a Statement of Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage issued late last week, the church clarified its stance on the issue, offering little consolation to LGBT Anglicans in the UK.
It acknowledged that “the proposition that same sex relationships can embody crucial social virtues is not in dispute” and they can “often embody genuine mutuality and fidelity… two of the virtues which the Book of Common Prayer uses to commend marriage…”
Despite this, the church stated “that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.”
The church confirmed that when it comes to same-sex weddings, which are set to start taking place in England and Wales from late March, “services of blessing should not be provided.”
It said that “it will continue not to be legally possible for two persons of the same sex to marry according to the rites of the Church of England.”
The church added, however, that it would not “interfere with the clergy’s pastoral discretion about when more informal kind of prayer, at the request of the couple, might be appropriate in the light of the circumstances.”
The church further affirmed that it would still not ordain anyone into the clergy who is in a same-sex marriage and that it would not be possible for an existing member of the clergy to marry a same-sex partner “given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”
The statement is likely to be welcomed by African Anglican churches. The Church of England has been facing growing dissent from these churches, which have backed anti-gay legislation in Uganda and Nigeria and have threatened to split from the English parent church over the issues of gay marriage and gay clergy.
The Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and of Southern Africa, the Most Revd Dr. Thabo Makgoba, has stood out on the continent by vocally rejecting discrimination against LGBT people, although he too has not offered support for same-sex marriage.
Despite its decision to continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, the Church of England said that it is unreservedly “committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people.
“The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual people that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship,” it said.