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The Church of England on Wednesday debated allowing priests to offer blessings to same-sex couples. The discussion takes place amid deep divisions between Anglican religious, gathered for a General Synod until this Thursday (9), at Westminster Abbey, in London.
The meeting takes place two to three times a year. After five hours of discussions, members of the Anglican Church began voting on proposals put forward last month by the bishops.
There is no change to the rules prohibiting Anglican priests from officiating at same-sex weddings. However, among the suggestions put forward, they could offer “the blessing of God” for civil marriages or civil partnerships in the church.
“This is a right extended to all straight men and women in England, regardless of their religion – but not LGBTs. That is discrimination, and discrimination is not a Christian value,” said veteran UK gay rights activist Peter Tatchell.
In an open letter last month, the Anglican bishops issued an unprecedented apology directed at LGBTQ+ people for the times they have faced a “hostile and homophobic response” in parishes.
Jayne Ozanne, Synod member and LGBTQ activist, issued her own condemnation of the belated apology. “We’ve had years of apologies from our bishops but no action,” he told AFP ahead of Wednesday’s debate. “It’s like an abusive relationship where someone keeps hitting you and then says ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry’,” he compared. “Until the discrimination and abuse stops, we don’t want to hear any more empty words. We need to act first,” he added.
While the measures – which follow nearly six years of internal debate on the issue – have been welcomed by some as progress, others are not.
“I am supporting not because of culture but because of scripture, tradition and reason evidenced in the vast work done over the past six years,” said Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
Vaughan Roberts, rector of an evangelical church in Oxford, in central England, implored the Synod to reject the reforms. “I believe this approach will not keep us together, but will only drive us further apart,” he warned.
The conservative Evangelical Council of the Church of England protested the reforms. “There will be a deep rift within the Church of England because many of us cannot agree with this and will be forced to distance ourselves from those who do,” Roberts added in his comments.
church under pressure
The Church of England has been under pressure to reform its approach to same-sex marriage since it became legal in England in 2013.
Although dozens of other countries have legalized same-sex unions, homosexuality remains banned in many parts of the world.
This includes highly religious and conservative countries in sub-Saharan Africa, which help to make up the Anglican Communion of 43 churches in 165 countries.
The rejection of the proposals during the Synod of London could make the continuation of the measure practically impossible.
The Church of England is not the only major Christian communion facing heightened tensions over the issue. The Catholic Church is also plagued by divisions. Pope Francis has stirred controversy with his relatively liberal attitude towards sexual orientation, which is at odds with the beliefs of many conservative Catholics.
But the pope also frustrated more progressives by adhering steadfastly to Catholic teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
(With information from AFP)