THE Governing Body of the Church in Wales has voted narrowly in favour of allowing same-sex couples to marry in the Church. But it appears that the non-binding, advisory-only secret ballot has not produced enough votes in favour to persuade the Bishops to frame new legislation.
The vote on Thursday does not constitute a decision of the Governing Body. Instead, the results — and the two-and-a-half-hour debate that preceded the vote — will be used to guide the Province’s Bench of Bishops when it meets to discuss the issue in October.
Three options were under consideration: the first would mean no change to the Church’s current teaching and practice on marriage and partnerships; the second would allow same-sex unions to be blessed in the Church in Wales; the third would enable same-sex couples to be married in church.
In the first preference vote of the 120 members present, half of the Bench of Bishops, just over half of the clergy, and just under one half of the laity voted in favour of same-sex marriage: a total of 61 votes. One bishop, 21 clergy, and 28 laity voted in favour of the status quo (50 votes). Nine people voted in favour of the second option, of blessing same-sex unions.
In the second preference vote, the majority of Governing Body members — a total of 92 votes — indicated that they had no second-preference position.
If the Bench of Bishops brought a Bill forward to permit same-sex marriages to be solemnised in the Church in Wales, it would require a two-thirds approval in all three houses.
After the vote, the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said that it was not worth “ripping the Church apart” by bringing forward a Bill to permit same sex marriage.
“I don’t want to pre-empt or prejudge what the Bench [of Bishops] will do,” he said, “but, speaking purely personally, I don’t think it would be profitable to bring a Bill before the Governing Body, given the state of opinion of the Church in Wales at the minute. It is quite obvious that, while a lot of people do want movement, quite a lot of people do not; and there is no point, it seems to me, in ripping this Church apart.”
On the other hand, if the Bishops opt to preserve the status quo, they will find themselves supporting what is now a minority view in the Governing Body.
Archbishop Morgan praised the 34 members of the Governing Body who spoke in the debate, for what he said was “one of the best debates I have ever been to”.
He said: “People didn’t judge one another, they were gentle with one another, and they agreed to disagree. In the past, we have had debates where people have been rather judgmental with one another, and made to feel somehow that they were less than Christian in some of the attitudes that they were expressing.
“There was none of that in that debate. It was a charitable debate; it was an open debate. It was a good debate.”
Dominic Cawdell is a co-opted member of the Governing Body to represent lay people under 30. In the debate, he explained that he was a gay ordinand, and had “two problems” with “the biblical passages that speak very strongly against the activities of two men, sexually.
“Firstly, they have no idea about homosexuality as we understand it today. This was the work of promiscuous men who couldn’t find women, or were involved in Pagan cults, or whatever. They have no concept of the loving, stable, committed, self-giving, and even sacramental relationships which can exist, and do exist, between people of the same sex.
“Secondly, the overwhelming impression as you read scripture is that love should abound.”
His views were not shared by the Rector of the Bro Moelwyn Ministry Area, in Bangor diocese, the Revd David Brownridge.
“This debate is unlike any other moral issue that we have previously debated in the Governing Body or as a Church,” he said. “It is unlike the remarriage of divorcees; it is unlike women bishops; it is even unlike slavery. All of those key topics can use biblical language to go either way. . . This debate is entirely different. We cannot interpret the Bible in two different ways.
“When you look at same-sex relationships, it does speak with consistency and clarity, from the beginning of the Old Testament all the way through to the New Testament.”
Dr Gillian Todd, of Swansea & Brecon, spoke of the “pain that has lived with me” for more than 35 years, because, as a divorcee, she was not allowed to marry her current husband in church. She was made to feel “not good enough”.
She told the Governing Body: “I hope and pray that we won’t continue to make others feel not good enough, and give them the acceptance of being included.”
The Vicar of Dwylan, in the diocese of Bangor, the Revd Janice Brown, warned that the Church should not seek to “look like the marketplace. We are called to be ambassadors for Christ, yes; to love all persons, yes; to show compassion, yes. But we have not been called to change God’s mind and God’s ways.”
None of the bishops spoke in the debate. Dr Morgan explained that they wanted to listen to the views of the Governing Body. The bishops will report back on their deliberations to the Governing Body’s next meeting in Llandudno, next April.