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MPs plan to put pressure on the C of E after Welby’s disestablishment remarks

02 February 2023


LAMBETH PALACE has expressed dismay at reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury told MPs that he would rather see the Church of England disestablished than split the Anglican Communion over the issue of same-sex marriage.

Archbishop Welby made the remarks in a private meeting with parliamentarians on Monday. The Church Times understands that it was put to Archbishop Welby that the Church of England’s current position on same-sex marriage was incompatible with its established status, and that the Archbishop replied that he would rather that the Church lost that status than exclude conservative groups in the Anglican Communion. The remarks reportedly were met with some surprise.

A spokesman for Lambeth Palace did not deny that the Archbishop had made a comment of this nature, but said: “We do not recognise the account of the private discussion as it has been leaked, which was much more nuanced and complex than how it has been described.

“The Archbishop agreed to meet for a private conversation with MPs, and it’s disappointing that some parliamentarians have chosen not to honour the terms of the meeting.”

Before the College of Bishops’ decision to offer blessings but not marriage to same-sex couples was leaked on 17 January, more than a dozen MPs publicly criticised the Church’s refusal to permit same-sex marriages in church (News, 19 January).

Parliamentarians have continued to take an interest in the Church’s deliberations, due to be debated in the General Synod next week. On Wednesday, a cross-party group of MPs met Sir Tony Baldry, the former Second Church Estates Commissioner.

The Labour MP for Exeter, Ben Bradshaw, who attended the meeting, said on Wednesday evening that there was an “ongoing discussion” about Parliament’s role in the debate on same-sex marriage.

“This meeting followed cross-party concerns in Parliament about the lack of progress on this issue, to examine what potential avenues Parliament has to act.

“It was a preliminary meeting to discuss options, and there are a number of options available: removing the exemption to the Equality Act, removing the quadruple lock on the Same-Sex Marriage Act; a simple legislative measure allowing parishes and priests to conduct same-sex marriages; [or] re-examining the 1919 Act.” This Act transferred the power to pass legislation from Parliament to the General Synod.

Jayne Ozanne, a Synod member and LGBTQ+ campaigner who helped convene the meeting, thanked the MPs who attended. “It is clear that there is significant interest to monitor closely what happens in Synod next week, and a desire to act if necessary to remove any ongoing discrimination against same-sex couples.”

On Thursday, the Labour MP for Rhondda, Sir Chris Bryant, a former Anglican priest, asked the Leader of the House, Penny Mordaunt MP, whether time would be allowed in Parliament “for legislation to push the Church of England into allowing same-sex marriages to be conducted by parishes and clergy who want to do that, if Synod doesn’t act”.

He said that he suspected that “this would be the view of the whole House”.

Ms Mordaunt did not clearly accede to the request, saying “as politicians, we all — perhaps more than most — appreciate the difficulty and the judgements the Church needs to make in this respect; but I do know there have been meetings this week, both in Parliament, but also from the legal profession as well about the implications of this.”

Sir Chris also suggested that “every single [MP] who goes to a gay marriage this year could bring a bishop along so they get to know the love, and to share in it.”

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