Originally published in The Telegraph
Church of England clergy have appeared to signal support for gay marriage after they rejected a bishops’ report which said that only a man and woman could marry in church.
The report recommended that the bar on same-sex church marriages continue but that a more welcoming attitude towards homosexuals should be shown by congregations.
However, the motion was rejected by clergy at the General Synod who voted 100 to 93 against. Sources said they believed the recommendation had been rejected by the more liberal members of the clergy who thought the Church should ultimately drop its opposition to gay marriage.
After the vote, Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, who led the group that produced the report, said: “We have listened to those who have spoken, and those others who have made contributions to us directly.
“Our ongoing discussions will be informed by what members of Synod and the wider Church have said as a result of this report.”
The vote exposes deep divisions in the Anglican Church over homosexuality and is embarrassing for the House of Bishops as authors of the report.
In the vote, which was split between the Church’s three houses – bishops, clergy, and laity – the clergy were the only house not to “take note” of, or accept, the report, which meant it was rejected.
There were two abstentions within the clergy and one bishop voted not to take note. Laity voted to take note by 106 to 83 with four abstentions. The report was strongly criticised during a two-hour debate on Wednesday afternoon.
Members said it was “grudging and condescending”, “divorced from reality” and made the Church look “unkind” and homophobic.
The report had recommended that the Church continue to consider marriage as “a union, permanent and lifelong, of one man with one woman”.
Before the vote, the Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, urged members to “take note” of the motion but promised that bishops would in future “do better”, adding: “We could hardly fail to do so, in the light of what has been said this afternoon”.
The vote was welcomed as a symbolic victory by campaigners. Jayne Ozanne, a campaigner for LGBT rights within the Church, said she was “thrilled” with the result.
Peter Tatchell who has campaigned against Church homophobia for 50 years said: “This vote to, in effect, reject the bishops’ report is a victory for love and equality. It is the biggest defeat for the Anglican leadership in many decades. Synod refused to endorse the anti-LGBT exclusion and discrimination enshrined in the bishops’ recommendations.”
But some conservative members also voted against the report, which recommended a more welcoming attitude to homosexuals, saying it would have allowed the Church “maximum freedom” to support gay couples and clergy.
Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of lobby group Christian Concern, said: “I think what was clear from the debate was that the report tries to straddle positions that cannot be reconciled. I voted against the report as well. This shouldn’t be read as a victory for the LGBT activists within the Church.”
The report, released last month after a three-year consultation process, was strongly opposed by liberal members of the Church of England’s governing body, who said it discriminated against gay people and excused homophobia.
Earlier, two bishops who helped write the report apologised for its content and tone but urged members not to reject it.
Bishop Graham insisted that lesbian and gay people already had an “honoured place” in the Church.