The Church of England has reiterated its long-term stance that sex is proper only between a heterosexual man and woman who are married to each other.
The church’s longstanding tenet was included in a pastoral statement about civil partnerships issued this week by the church’s House of Bishops.
The pastoral guidance was prompted by a British supreme court ruling giving heterosexual couples access to such arrangements. Before the recent ruling, civil partnerships were available only to same-sex couples.
According to the Guardian, the pastoral statement concluded that despite the legal ruling, “the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.”
The statement notes that the Church of England upholds the beliefs that “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. In its approach to civil partnerships, the Church seeks to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually-abstinent friendships and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.”
The statement adds that “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”
The church’s director of mission and public affairs, the Rev. Dr. Malcolm Brown, emphasized the difference between a marriage and a civil partnership saying, “Civil partnership is not the same as marriage, which is founded on the taking of solemn public vows and is recognised 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 formalise their relationship in this way,” the Guardian reports.
Also in their statement, the bishops warned that unlike traditional marriage vows, “the nature of the commitment” is left “entirely open” with a civil partnership. Particularly, the bishops said such a relationship “is not predicated on the intention to engage in a sexual relationship.”
The bishops further noted that “Because of the ambiguity about the place of sexual activity within civil partnerships of both sorts, and the church’s teaching that marriage between a man and a woman is the proper context for sexual intercourse, we do not believe it is possible for the church unconditionally to accept civil partnerships as unequivocally reflecting the teaching of the church.”
Therefore, the statement asserts, the C of E clergy “should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.”
The Civil Partnership Act in Britain dates to December 2005. It allows same-sex couples to obtain legal status regarding property rights, inheritance and entitlements. The Church of England allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships as long as they remain sexually abstinent.
Britain legalized same-sex marriage in 2013. The Church of England does not allow same-sex marriage.
In 2018 the civil partnership law was amended after the British supreme court ruled that mixed-sex couples also have rights to such legal arrangements. In December 2019, the first mixed-sex civil partnerships were registered in Britain.
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Tim Tune is a freelance journalist based in Fort Worth, Texas. His work has been published by Baptist Press, as well as the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Business Press, Arlington Today magazine and other North Texas publications.