Church of Ireland body’s pro-gay marriage stance hailed by same-sex campaign group
A gay reform group has said the acceptance of same-sex marriage by a key body in the Church of Ireland (CoI) reflects a “sea-change” in social attitudes to homosexuality.
The campaign group Changing Attitude Ireland was reacting to news broken by the News Letter this week that the CoI Church and Society Commission has come out in favour of letting gay people convert their civil partnerships into marriages.
The church has been at pains to stress that its own internal doctrine on gay marriage remains unchanged – namely, that it is between one man and one woman.
And whilst the church accused the News Letter of spreading “misleading” information over the issue, saying its position has been “made clear”, prominent Anglican Canon Ian Ellis said there will be “confusion” among communion members regarding the church’s stance.
The controversy arose due to the government’s recent public consultation on the rules around gay marriage.
One of the questions it had asked was: “Do you agree same-sex couples in NI should be permitted to convert their civil partnership to marriage?”
The church commission replied: “Yes. If it has been decided to legalise same-sex marriage in a territory where such couples were previously only able to form civil partnerships it should be permitted for them to convert such a partnership to a marriage.”
After this became public, the church press office said the commission’s response does not “alter the church’s understanding of how it celebrates marriage”.
Changing Attitude Ireland’s full statement reads as follows:
“Changing Attitude Ireland warmly notes the contribution from the CoI Church and Society Commission on the issues of converting civil partnerships to marriage under the recently introduced Marriage (Same-sex Couples) and Civil Partnership (Opposite-sex Couples) (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2019 legislation.
“Whilst the response from the commission may appear to differ from the Church’s official stance as expressed by General Synod in 2012, when it reaffirmed Canon 31 which defines marriage as being between a man and woman, the commission’s contribution is broadly representative of the feeling of the general membership of the CoI as a whole across the island of Ireland, and reflective of the universal sea-change in peoples understanding of human sexuality; that it is innate and not acquired and that people do not choose to be homosexual any more than they do heterosexual. The commission’s reply also acknowledges the blessing that same-sex marriages can be, not only to the couple, but also to society at large and, where the couple in question are Christians, to the churches to which they belong.
“Looking at countries where same-sex relationships have enjoyed civil recognition over a much longer period of time than in Ireland or England, we see this change of attitude represented in research findings. One such study carried out in a predominantly protestant country, Norway (69% Lutheran), and published as early as 2012 shows that two-thirds of the Norwegian population supported equal civil marriage rights for gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples.
“It also indicates that the majority of the Norwegian population also supports equal rights to church weddings for lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples.
“The study also indicates that, when allowance is made for research variables, the support for equal marriage rights in Norway appears to be not only quite high but also quite stable.
“By 1998, nearly half the Norwegian population supported equal right to church weddings for lesbian, gay and heterosexual couples.
“The broadly supportive and inclusive tone of the Church and Society Commission’s contribution, likewise, is representative of the awakening that Irish society, north and south of the border is experiencing and is to be welcomed.
“Changing Attitude Ireland looks forward to working together with other members and agencies of the CoI on creating an open, inclusive and welcoming church for all peoples, recognising that all are created equal and in the likeness of the Divine.”