Church of England blesses same-sex couples for first time
LONDON (AP) — Church of England priests offered officially sanctioned blessings of same-sex partnerships for the first time on Sunday, though a ban on church weddings for gay couples remains in place amid deep divisions within global Anglicanism over marriage and sexuality.
In one of the first ceremonies, the Rev. Catherine Bond and the Reverend Jane Pearce had their union blessed at St John the Baptist church, in Felixstowe, eastern England, where both are associate priests.
The couple knelt in front of Canon Andrew Dotchin, who held their heads as he gave “thanks for Catherine and Jane, to the love and friendship they share, and their commitment to one another as they come before you on this day.”
The church’s national assembly voted in February to allow clergy to bless the unions of same-sex couples who have had civil weddings or partnerships. The words used for the blessings, known as prayers of love and faith, were approved by the church’s House of Bishops on Tuesday and used for the first time on Sunday.
The compromise was struck following five years of discussions about the church’s position on sexuality. Church leaders offered an apology for the church’s failure to welcome LGBTQ people, but also endorsed the doctrine that marriage is the union of one man and one woman. Clergy won’t be required to perform same-sex blessings if they disagree with them.
The blessings can be used in regular church services. The church’s governing body has also drawn up a plan for separate “services of prayer and dedication” for same-sex couples that would resemble weddings, but it has not yet been formally approved.
Public opinion surveys consistently show that a majority of people in England support same-sex marriage, which has been legal since 2013. The church didn’t alter its teaching on marriage when the law changed.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has said he won’t personally bless any same-sex couples because it’s his job to unify the world’s 85 million Anglicans. Welby is the spiritual leader of both the Church of England and the global Anglican Communion of which it is a member.
Several Anglican bishops from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Pacific said after the February decision that they no longer recognize Welby as their leader.