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MPs criticise Church of England over stance on same-sex marriage

19 January 2023


Penny Mordaunt MP, President of the Privy Council, in Downing Street on Tuesday

Penny Mordaunt MP, President of the Privy Council, in Downing Street on Tuesday

THE Labour MPs Ben Bradshaw and Steve Reed have strongly criticised the Church of England’s stance on same-sex marriage, and suggested that its constitutional status is under threat.

Mr Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, said on Wednesday that he was “dismayed” by the College of Bishops’ proposals to allow blessings only for same-sex unions and not marriage, and said that the Church of England had “confirmed its status as an institutionally homophobic organisation”.

“I think it’s a real crisis moment for the Church of England. And a dark day for for the Church in England, with potentially enormous constitutional repercussions,” he told the Church Times.

Mr Reed, who is MP for Croydon North and the Shadow Secretary for Justice, wrote on Twitter that it was “unacceptable for the established church to continue pandering to ancient bigotry — a faith that professes love should embrace loyal, loving and committed relationships that increase the sum of human happiness just as public opinion and the law have done”.

Mr Bradshaw, who is a Anglican churchgoer, said that “probably an overwhelming majority of MPs do not believe that to continue to exclude lesbian and gay people from the full rights of the Church is compatible with the Church of England’s continued established status.”

The Conservative MP for West Dorset, Chris Loder, also criticised the Church’s position, but disagrees with Mr Bradshaw about the threat of disestablishment.

“I’m absolutely not in that place, and I don’t think the Conservative Party backbenchers are in that place either,” he said on Tuesday evening, before the contents of the Bishops’ proposals had been revealed. “I think the Established Church offers huge benefits: I think it’s very important to the fabric of society.”

Mr Loder said that, in the C of E, “we’re in a situation where we are, in effect, creating two tiers of membership”, and criticised the Living in Love and Faith process as having “gone on for too long — it’s just a mode of procrastination; we need to be real.”

Mr Loder expressed particular concern about how the current situation is “discriminating terribly against gay clergy. . . If you are a priest in the Church of England, you cannot marry someone who you may have spent your entire life with if you want to maintain your role as a priest.”

He said that there were a “significant number” of clergy who have come to MPs to express their concerns, saying that many had “almost given up hope of finding solutions”. Mr Loder encouraged such clergy to get in touch with him, or with their constituency MP.

Mr Loder criticised the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to the concerns of parliamentarians “on a number of issues”, but said that Archbishop Welby “doesn’t even bother to reply to the letters”.

“I think it is incredible that you’ve got an Archbishop in Justin Welby who is so outspoken on government policy, and political matters of the day, yet remains completely silent on some of the issues affecting the Church,” Mr Loder said.

On Monday, before the College and House of Bishops met to finalise their proposals arrising out of the Living in Love and Faith process, at least 17 MPs wrote to their diocesan or area bishops asking them to endorse same-sex marriage in the C of E.

The Leader of the Commons, Penny Mordaunt, published an open letter to the Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Jonathan Frost, outlining her concerns (News, 17 January).

She expressed hope that the bishops would “back reform, allowing parishes and clergy to conduct weddings for same sex couples or, at a minimum, enable authorized blessings.

“I want all my constituents and others to be able to have the right to have their relationships solemnised in their local parish in England.”

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