Same-sex marriage: Church of Ireland body declares gay people should be able to wed

A body within the Church of Ireland has declared that gay couples should be allowed to be married.

Thursday, 27th February 2020, 8:00 am
Updated Thursday, 27th February 2020, 9:18 am
Bishop Kenneth Kearon, chairman of the church commission, has previously said the church as a whole does ‘not know its own mind’ on gay issues

The revelation is to be found buried in a consultation response from The Church of Ireland’s (CoI) Church and Society Commission.

This is a group within the Irish Anglican hierarchy, established by the General Synod in 2013, which looks at social issues such as health, politics and the environment.

The document in question was sent from it to the Northern Ireland Office, as part of a consultation into the rules which will govern gay marriage in NI.

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Specifically the consultation (which ended on Sunday) asked the public for views on ensuring clergy are not forced to conduct gay weddings.

One of the questions asked in the consultation was this: “Do you agree same-sex couples in NI should be permitted to convert their civil partnership to marriage?”

The reply of the CoI commission was: “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.”

This appears to be in radical conflict with the long-standing position of the church, which is essentially that gay marriage is impossible by definition.

Just last month it was quoted in media reports as saying: “The Church of Ireland affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its purpose a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do them part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side.”

Another question the government asked in the consultation was this: “If you represent a religious body in Northern Ireland, would you choose to give consent to solemnise same-sex marriages?”

But when it came to this question, the CoI commission responded: “N/A. The Church and Society Commission, while a part of the CoI, cannot speak on behalf of the entire church. Rather, the goal of [the committee] is to provide direction to the church’s practical work in social theology.

“The CoI has previously indicated its stance on the issue of same-sex marriages.”

The committee response was sent from Church of Ireland House in Dublin.

The committee itself is chaired by bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, Kenneth Kearon.

In 2015, in comments reported by the Church of Ireland Gazette, the bishop was quoted lamenting the lack of direction from the church over the gay marriage referendum in the Republic.

He said: “My perception is that, as a church, we tried to keep our heads down and hoped that we wouldn’t be drawn into the debate... because, I believe, we didn’t know our own mind as a Church on these issues”.

It was put the church that the position expressed by the commission is de facto support for gay marriage, and that this conflicts with the Anglican church’s established position.

The church’s press office responded: “The Church’s decision not to provide for same-sex marriage is unchanged.

“The doctrine of the Church of Ireland is that marriage is between one man and one woman; this is therefore the only form of marriage which may be celebrated within the Church.

“Anglican doctrine is expressed through liturgy, and the Church has no liturgy in relation to civil partnership or same-sex marriage.

“The context for the response is that there has been an alteration of the legal framework affecting a range of civil provisions, but this will not affect the Church’s teaching.”