THE Church of England response to the Government's consultation
on gay marriage (
News, 15 June), its status, and the process that lay behind it,
came under close scrutiny during Questions at General Synod last
The Archbishop of Canterbury answered a group of questions
together, including those from Canon Anne Stevens (Southwark) and
the Revd Professor Richard Burridge (Universities, London),
reflecting on how the response had claimed to represent "the Church
His first presidential address, Dr Williams said, had begun with
the words "Does the Church of England exist?" and so he was
sensitive to such issues. The submission had been discussed in
draft by the Archbishops' Council and the House of Bishops, and
amended to reflect comments made in those fora. It had been signed
off by the Archbishop of York and himself, and sent under cover of
a letter to the Home Secretary which had described it, accurately,
as the "official Church of England response to the Government
This was the same procedure as had been followed on House of
Lords reform, the Crown appointments process, and the abolition of
the office of Lord Chancellor.
In a supplementary question, Professor Burridge suggested that
the Archbishop, in answering his question, had failed to explain
how the process for responding to the consultation had been
determined theologically and ecclesiastically.
Dr Williams said that the document was not a document of the
House of Bishops, but a document that had been discussed with the
House and with the Archbishops' Council, and could thus be said to
be an expression of the bishops in synod. "Given that they do have,
theologically, guardianship of the tradition and teaching of the
Church, the House of Bishops has a leading role in discussion of
Canon Stevens went on to ask whether official responses in
"areas of controversy" might "at least acknowledge the presence of
some diversity in the Church". She acknowledged Canon B30 on
marriage, cited by the Archbishop, but suggested that some
diversity already existed in the interpretation of that canon, in
that some clergy were prepared to marry divorcees.
Dr Williams argued that there was an acknowledgement of
diversity in the response, in that the ongoing discussion on ethics
regarding same-sex marriage was "specifically flagged": "It is not
exactly a secret that the Church of England is having some
discussions about this; it is the worst kept secret in
Christendom." But he suggested that many would argue that
"flexibility about how we respond to the breakdown of marriage is
different from the question of marriage itself."
Robin Hall (Southwark) asked: "During the drafting was any
consideration given to the pastoral care of the thousands of loyal
Anglicans who woke up [on the day the response to the consultation
was published] to discover that the Church officially demeaned and
discriminated, in their view, against permanent and stable
Dr Williams said that this was question-begging; but this had
been very much in the minds of the House of Bishops. "Much has been
made of our need to be affirmative of civil partnerships", and
there had been "recognition that we have not always got it
Canon Michael Parsons (Gloucester) then asked whether the
Archbishop was aware of the "outrage felt by a significant portion
of the Church of England that this statement was issued . . . that
they wish to dissociate themselves permanently from it?"
Dr Williams said that he was aware of this, but that "it remains
the case that we are as the Church of England bound by the law
which governs us." The Government's consultation paper had been
"deeply flawed" in regard to the legal position of the Church of
England and of its clergy, and the "fundamental legal issues"
raised by it "will not go away".
Gerald O'Brien (Rochester) thanked the Archbishop for the
"robust defence of marriage" made in the response to the
consultation; and there was a round of applause.
Canon Simon Butler (Southwark) asked whether it could be ensured
that documents bore the name of "a body of persons who are
answerable for" them. Dr Williams reiterated, briefly, what the
drafting and signing off procedure was, and added: "I hear the
In answer to questions from Joanna Monckton (Lichfield) and
others, Dr Williams said that discussions were ongoing with the
Home Secretary and Home Office, and that the basis of the mandate
for changing the state's understanding of marriage, given the lack
of commitment to this in the election manifestos, was a question
that required a more lucid answer than it had so far received. "It
is only right to note, however, that same-sex marriage now has the
official support of all three main parties."
Mr O'Brien asked whether it could be inferred from the
Archbishop's comments that "he does not accept that the Government
has a mandate to make these changes and that it has offered no
evidence of a significant demand for it?"
The Archbishop said that this "would be a reasonable