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The Church of England has a longstanding tradition and a definition of marriage that says: Marriage is defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman making a public commitment to each other and according to the Church of England it is central to the stability and health of human society.
The Book of Common Prayer lists the causes for which marriage was ordained, namely: ‘for the procreation of children, …for a remedy against sin [and]…. for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other.’
The Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005 and it allowed same-sex couples to acquire a legal status and rights in relation to property, inheritance and tax entitlement. In 2013, same-sex marriage was legalized. The Church of England has issued pastoral guidance in response to the recent introduction to mixed-sex civil partnerships and pointed out that with opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.
The pastoral guidance says: “For Christians, marriage — that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity.”
It adds: “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”
We can see that the Church of England allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships as long as they are sexually abstinent. The Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the Church of England’s director of mission and public affairs, said: “Civil partnership is not the same as marriage, which is founded on the taking of solemn public vows and is recognized in the church’s teaching as the only proper context for sexual relationships.
“So, as with same-sex civil partnerships, there is no formal service or blessing but clergy will, as always, be encouraged to respond pastorally to couples wishing to formalize their relationship in this way.”
As the Guardian reports, Jayne Ozanne, a campaigner for LGBT rights and a member of the Church of England’s ruling body, the General Synod, said: “I’m sadly unsurprised by the content of this statement, but I’m deeply saddened by its tone. It will appear far from ‘pastoral’ to those it discusses and shows little evidence of the ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ that we have been promised. I look forward to the day when the Church of England sets its house in order, extends a proper welcome to all and makes confused ‘pastoral statements’ like this redundant.”