CoI reaffirms stance on same-sex marriage after ‘culture of welcome’ vote

The General Synod of the Church of England at Church House in London
The General Synod of the Church of England at Church House in London

A debate taking place within the Church of England around attitudes to same-sex marriage is unlikely to have a major effect on the traditional stance taken by the Church of Ireland (CoI), a leading church figure has said.

Church of Ireland Gazette editor Canon Ian Ellis was commenting after the General Synod of the English church considered a report calling for the church to adopt a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for gay people.

The debate was held to allow the views of members of the Church’s national assembly to be heard. The vote itself was symbolic and not binding, but will be used to inform the House of Bishops’ work and future discussions on sexuality and same-sex marriage. For the report to be approved, it had to gain a majority in the House of Bishops, House of Clergy and House of Laity.

While the House of Bishops and House of Laity approved the report, the House of Clergy rejected its recommendations by a small majority. The report had been criticised for failing to give gay people a voice, while evangelicals suggested it went too far.

Canon Ellis said: “The thing about the English situation yesterday was that it was a vote on a ‘take note’ debate, so it wasn’t really about legislating for any change. The motion fell by a very small majority...but if you add the totals up you will see there was a majority, if you take them all together, in favour of the report but it fell in the one house.”

Canon Ellis added: “There has been a lot of talk and dialogue about this and they [bishops] just wanted to put their thoughts before the Synod...but obviously there is a division of opinion about the matter. As editor of The Gazette I do know that the Church of Ireland follows what happens in other parts of the Anglican communion, and certainly in the Church of England.

“What happens in England has a ripple effect, and has a bearing upon the situation here, but I don’t feel what happens in the Church of England pressurises the Church of Ireland.”

Canon Ellis said the “challenge here is how to learn to live together with people who differ,” and added: “In terms of marriage it is a very fundamental doctrine of the church, and the Church of Ireland had reaffirmed its traditional view.

“I think that discussion about this will go ahead but I don’t see change in the offing.”

A spokesman for the CoI said the church’s position on same-sex was affirmed in 2012 and has not changed.

The General Synod motion of 2012 said: “The Church of Ireland continues to uphold its teaching that marriage is part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which one man and one woman become one flesh, as provided for in Canon 31.”

The motion adds: “The Church of Ireland welcomes all people to be members of the Church. It is acknowledged, however, that members of the Church have at times hurt and wounded people by words and actions, in relation to human sexuality.”

Archbishop of Armagh, Rev Dr Richard Clarke, said: “The Church of Ireland does not generally comment on the internal decisions of another Church. With regard to the wider context of discussions on human sexuality and Christian belief and the Church of Ireland, by way of parallel, the resolution of the General Synod in 2012 has enabled the Church of Ireland to establish a base from which to work, bringing together a Select Committee whose membership draws on bishops, clergy and laity.”