The Church of Ireland Gazette has issued a controversial proposal that the denomination creates a new affirmation ceremony for couples in civil same-sex marriages.
The radical proposal comes after the worldwide Anglican church agreed earlier this month to sanction its US branch over its “fundamental departure” from the faith by endorsing gay marriage.
Editorially independent of the denomination, this month’s Gazette argues for an innovative affirmation ceremony for civil same-sex marriage – based on the precedent of the Church blessing the remarriage of divorcees when that was contrary to Church teaching.
Some traditionalists would contend that both actions by the Church would contravene scripture but the Gazette argues that since the Church has long affirmed the former, it now has no excuse but to support the latter also.
A particular question arises, the Gazette editorial said, as to how the Church should approach committed members of the Church of Ireland who have entered into “civil same-sex marriages”. Only civil partnerships are available to date in its northern jurisdiction, while gay marriage is now lawful in the south.
“The teaching of the Church is clear that marriage is both heterosexual and lifelong in its purpose (Canon 31),” the editorial said.
However, the Church has already made provision for the remarriage in church of divorced persons, subject to special pastoral requirements in each case.
Therefore, the editorial suggests, “it is now for the Church to consider, as a matter of some urgency, what its pastoral approach is to be in relation to churchgoing couples who are in civil same-sex marriages”.
For heterosexual couples, the Church at first refused remarriage of divorcees, later moving to bless civil remarriages, and finally to the current position where remarriage of divorcees in formal church services is frequent.
For some people, the blessing of civil remarriages at the time was “hypocritical”, the Gazette said, because “it was seen as blessing something of which the Church did not approve”.
It added: “Yet, the service was an expression of the Church’s acceptance of individuals’ right to differ from the Church in terms of how they lived their lives in this regard.
“It was not hypocrisy; it was about the Church accepting that it is not, actually, infallible and that individual Christian people have a right, to some extent at least, to disagree with the Church while remaining fully in communion with it.
“While it remains a matter of debate that the rationale behind the remarriage of divorced persons in church gives grounds for the marriage of same-sex couples also in church, as things stand it is quite possible for the Church to recognise, through a specific pastoral ministry, that couples in civil same-sex marriages have entered into that relationship in a wholly conscientious manner.
“Such couples must be given their place in the Church, even though their decision runs counter to Church teaching.”
Church ‘would affirm decision’
The Church of Ireland Gazette concluded its argument for some form of ceremony of affirmation for couples in same-sex civil marriages, suggesting that because of the importance of the matter “and the sensitivities involved, it might be that such a ministry should be one performed by bishops at their discretion, or by a member of the clergy designated by the bishop to perform such a ministry on the bishop’s behalf”.
It added: “It would, in effect, be to say: ‘While the Church does not allow for same-sex marriage in its doctrine and rites, the Church respects your decision and affirms your place in its life.”
The Church of Ireland has some 300,000 members. The two-thirds in Northern Ireland broadly oppose same-sex relationships while the one-third in the Republic broadly support them. Previous calls for a split have met with little support.