Church services for gay couples urged

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Clergy should be able to offer appropriate services to mark faithful same-sex relationships, according to a report prepared for the Church of England.

The proposal was welcomed by gay rights campaigners but the Archbishops of Canterbury and York warned it was “not a new policy statement from the Church of England”.

The House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality does not propose specific wording for the service and says clergy would not be required to offer them, and they could not extend to solemnising same sex marriages without major changes to the law.

The study, commissioned in January last year, and chaired by retired civil servant Sir Joseph Pilling, considered homophobia, evidence from science, from scripture and from theologians. Members of the group also met a number of gay and lesbian people to listen to their experiences and insights.

Its 18 recommendations include that they believe there can be circumstances where a priest, with the agreement of the relevant Church Council, should be free to mark the formation of a permanent same sex relationship in a public service, but should be under no obligation to do so.

The report also calls the whole Church “to real repentance for the lack of welcome and acceptance extended to homosexual people in the past” and calls on the Church to combat homophobia whenever and wherever it is found.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Most Rev Justin Welby and Dr John Sentamu, said in a statement: “This is a substantial document proposing a process of facilitated conversations in the Church of England over a period of perhaps two years. The document offers findings and recommendations to form part of that process of facilitated conversations. It is not a new policy statement from the Church of England.

“The House of Bishops will be meeting next month and the College of Bishops the following month to consider the report and decide how such a process might best be shaped. In view of the interest in the report we have decided that it should be published now, without delay.”