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Church of England should recognise same-sex weddings, says bishop

Church of England should recognise same-sex weddings, says bishop
Paul Bayes, bishop of Liverpool, pushes for 'gender-neutral marriage canon' and church ceremonies
Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, is the most senior C of E figure to explicitly back a change in church law and teaching

By Harriet Sherwood
26 Jun 2021

A senior bishop has said the Church of England should recognise marriage between people of the same sex and allow such ceremonies in church, a move that would break with centuries of Christian teaching.

Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, called for a "gender-neutral marriage canon" in a controversial and hard-hitting speech on Saturday, making him the most senior figure in the C of E to explicitly back a change in church law and teaching.

The "world beyond the church" has found it to be offensive, oppressive and hypocritical, he said.

Issues of sexuality, gender and same-sex marriage have caused deep and bitter divisions within the C of E in recent decades. Conservatives have sought to uphold traditional teaching that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. Campaigners for change say the bible teaches inclusivity and equality.

Speaking at a conference of Mosaic, a grassroots church body that advocates inclusivity, Bayes said that some within the C of E saw discrimination on the basis of sexuality as acceptable.

"The fact is that ... increasingly in the area of racial justice and disability justice, and overwhelmingly in this area of sexuality, as well of course as in the area of secrecy and abuse, the arc of the moral universe keeps on bending towards justice.

"Look at our football team, kneeling in the face of the boos of the sleepwalkers so as to advocate for justice. The world beyond the church has set the moral agenda, and those who kneel with our footballers, or who see no difference between attending the marriage of their gay or their straight friends or work colleagues, find the community of faith to be wanting and indeed increasingly offensive. Nowhere is that more true than in the area of human sexuality," he said.

Bayes, who has become increasingly outspoken on LGBT+ rights in recent years, said he had not chosen "this agenda". But, he added, "as I grow older and the arc of my own ministry draws close to its end, I am glad to be able to speak wholeheartedly for a vision of Christian community that does not stink of oppression or of hypocrisy in the nostrils of the world."

He told the conference: "I want to see a church that is no longer institutionally racist. I want to see a church where people with physical or mental or emotional disability are honoured and accommodated and learned from and loved, and whose love is received as a gift ...
"I want to see a gender-neutral marriage canon, such as they have in the [US] Episcopal church or in the Scottish Episcopal church. And as a necessary but not sufficient first step, I want to see conscientious freedom for the church's ministers and local leaders to honour, recognise and, yes indeed, bless same-sex unions ...

"I want to see an end to LGBTQ+ people hiding who they are for fear of being exposed to conversion therapy or being forbidden to minister in churches. I want to see an end to the inquisition of ordinands about their private lives. I want to see all this before I die."

Bayes' comments were made two weeks before the C of E's ruling body, the General Synod, will again discuss issues of sexuality at an online meeting. Such debates, Bayes said, suggested that "people's lives can be picked over remotely and intellectually without damage. They can't."

Equality campaigners in the C of E say that LGBT+ Christians have been made to feel unwelcome. Some have undergone conversion practices, including prayers to "deliver" them from their sexuality, which in some cases have led to breakdowns or suicidal feelings.

The C of E does not recognise same-sex marriages, and forbids clergy to bless same-sex unions. Gay and lesbian clergy are permitted to be in relationships so long as they are celibate.


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