THE Church of England should “reflect” on whether to permit blessings of gay relationships in church as society’s attitudes change, the Prime Minister has said.
In an interview to mark 50 years since the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, Theresa May said that, while the Church had “come a distance” on questions of sexuality, “obviously they will want to reflect as attitudes more generally change, as society changes.”
She also suggested that her father, the Revd Hubert Brasier, who died more than 30 years ago, might have supported the blessing of same-sex marriages, because of how he valued “people affirming [their] relationships, of seeing stability in relationships, of people being able to be together with the people they love”.
Nevertheless, Mrs May said that changing canon law on gay marriage or allowing blessings was a “matter for the Church”, not the Government.
In the interview, given to LBC in Downing Street, Mrs May also defended her own record on LGBT issues, admitting that her views had changed since she voted against measures to reduce the age of consent for gay sex from 18 to 16 in 1998, or to allow gay couples to adopt children in 2002.
She later voted for civil partnerships in 2004, and in favour of same-sex marriage in 2013.
“If you look at what has happened over the years, you will see a change in the Conservative Party, and in individuals,” she said. Her position on gay issues had changed partly because of talking to LGBT people about their experiences, including a couple living in her village, who were one of the first to get married after the law changed in 2014.
A spokeswoman for the C of E said on Thursday: “Parliament understood that it was an important aspect of religious freedom to allow Christian Churches and other faiths to decide whether or not they could embrace same-sex marriage.
“The Church of England is unable by law to marry couples of the same sex — nevertheless it is open to clergy in the Church of England to exercise pastoral discretion in providing informal prayer for a couple at their request.”
The spokeswoman also noted that there was “real and profound disagreement” within the C of E over sexuality, and said that the Church was “seeking to find ways forward”, including preparing a new teaching document (News, 14 July).
The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has also urged the Church to allow gay weddings. He told a reception on Tuesday: “I still feel that we can only really have equal marriage when you can bloody well get married in a church if you want to do so.”
Likewise, the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, has said that it was important the Church “keeps up” with changing social mores and join with the state in offering same-sex marriage. “We have allowed same-sex marriage, that’s a massive step forward for the better,” she told Sky News on Sunday.
“For me, I think people do want to see our major faiths keep up with modern attitudes in our country.” But she also said: “I wouldn’t prescribe to them how they should deal with that.” Ms Greening announced that she was in a gay relationship during London Pride last year.
In an article for PinkNews to mark the anniversary of the 1967 reform, Mrs May wrote: “I am proud of the role my party has played in recent years in advocating a Britain which seeks to end discrimination on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity, but I acknowledge where we have been wrong on these issues in the past.
“There will justifiably be scepticism about the positions taken and votes cast down through the years by the Conservative Party, and by me, compared to where we are now. But like the country we serve, my party and I have come a long way.”
Mrs May also told LBC that, while she understood those who feared her alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) because of the Northern Irish party’s social conservatism, it would not stop the Government from moving forward on LGBT issues.
“There will be many people who listen to this who will entirely agree with the DUP on the importance of the Union, who agree on the importance of good counter-terrorism measures, but who don’t agree with them on their approach to same-sex marriage,” she said.
“The Conservative Party in Government doesn’t agree with the DUP on these issues on LGBT rights. We will continue to push forward to enhance LGBT rights. That won’t be changed by our relationship with the DUP.”
Northern Ireland is the only place in the UK where same-sex marriage is not legal, and the DUP have pledged to block any attempt to change the law at the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast.