THE Methodist Conference has voted overwhelmingly to permit its ministers to conduct same-sex marriages in its churches and buildings.
The Conference, meeting both online and in-person at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham this week, voted 254 to 46 in favour of a resolution by which “the Conference consents in principle to the marriage of same-sex couples on Methodist premises throughout the Connexion and by Methodist ministers, probationers or members in so far as the law of the relevant jurisdiction permits or requires and subject to compliance with such further requirements, if any, as that law imposes.”
This involved redrafting the Methodist marriage canon to replace the premise that marriage is between one man and one woman. The relevant standing order now states: “The Methodist Church believes that marriage is given by God to be a particular channel of God’s grace, and that it is in accord with God’s purposes when a marriage is a life-long union in body, mind and spirit of two people who freely enter it.
“Within the Methodist Church this is understood in two ways: that marriage can only be between a man and a woman; that marriage can be between any two people. The Methodist Church affirms both understandings and makes provision in its Standing Orders for them.”
The Church Times understands that the first same-sex weddings are to take place in Methodist churches from this autumn.
In the same debate, the Conference also voted strongly (253 for; 38 against) in favour of a resolution to recognise, accept, and celebrate the love and commitment of unmarried cohabiting couples.
The two resolutions were first proposed in the 2019 report on marriage and relationships, God in Love Unites Us, which was presented to the Conference that year and subsequently received support from 29 out of 30 district synods (News, 5 July 2019).
Calls for unity and healing were expressed during the debate on the two resolutions on Wednesday morning. The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler acknowledged the “depth of feeling, pain and anxiety” over marriage and relationships, and the commitment to work across the Connexion with District Chairs to heal divisions. Younger speakers recounted their own experience as LGBT Christians, while others asked that the Church be careful not to ostracise those who opposed same-sex marriage.
The newly elected President of the Conference, the Revd Sonia Hicks, said in response to the vote: “The debate today and our wider conversation has been conducted with grace and mutual respect. As we move forward together after this historic day for our Church, we must remember to continue to hold each other in prayer, and to support each other respecting our differences.”
Responding to the news on Wednesday, a lay member of the C of E’s General Synod and LGBT campaigner, Jayne Ozanne, said: “I am absolutely thrilled that the Methodist Conference has overwhelmingly voted to allow same-sex marriage in their churches.
“This reflects the significant shift that there has been amongst Christian attitudes in England and shows how so many people would echo the recent call of Bishop Paul Bayes to allow same-sex marriage in the Church of England. LGBT+ people and their friends and families will be weeping tears of joy today — what a wonderful way to end the month of Pride.”