Church Of England Fails LGBTQ+ Community Again By Saying Sex Is For Straight Marriages Only
Yesterday, the Church of England once again reiterated that sex is for heterosexual marriages only, stating those in gay or straight civil partnerships should be sexually abstinent.
The ‘guidance’, which confirms the Church’s stance on marriage and sex outside of marriage, comes after the introduction of mixed-sex civil partnerships in 2019.
The statement claims those having sex outside of heterosexual marriage are regarded as ‘falling short of God’s purpose for human beings’ – despite the fact the Church has previously said ‘every human being is of infinite value in God’s sight’.
First of all let me say, this isn’t necessarily the most surprising news. For centuries, the Church of England (C of E) has been of the view that marriage is something shared between a man and a woman. This is unlikely to change anytime soon.
Although same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013, the C of E does not permit it. It does allow clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships, but only if they are sexually abstinent.
In fact, in 2014 – following this legalisation – the Church issued a statement saying all members were in agreement that ‘the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged’.
Pastoral guidance from the C of E House of Bishops yesterday, January 23, reiterated this viewpoint, stating: ‘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’.
What is perhaps a little bit more surprising is that the guidance comes at a time when the Church is undergoing a major review of sexuality, with its ‘Living in Love and Faith‘ project hoping to ‘forge deeper relationships with people from whom we differ’.
That same project was supposedly initiated because of the C of E’s claims that it’s ‘keenly aware that issues of gender and sexuality are intrinsic to people’s experience; their sense of identity; their lives and the loving relationships that shape and sustain them’.
For an establishment that prides itself on the above values, this new guidance seems hypocritical at the very least. At its worst, it seems like a way to exclude an entire community from its teachings, something Alex Hickson, a gay cis man from Blackpool, describes as ‘another resounding disappointment’.
While Alex, 23, said the new guidance doesn’t surprise him, he said the fact the C of E is ‘disregarding sexual activity between non-heterosexual people’ simply highlights why members of the LGBTQ+ community ‘feel ostracised from religion’.
He told UNILAD:
I feel apathetic towards it, as it’s of no surprise to me that the Church continues to vilify non-heterosexual people.
I think apathy sums it up: I’d find it more offensive if it was from an institution I thought had made real strides in progression – which admittedly I thought C of E had – but as a person still vilified in many parts of culture, it’s just another resounding disappointment.
For Alex to feel apathetic towards something that in no uncertain terms says his identity and his way of life ‘falls short of God’s purpose’ – ergo is wrong – is a sad reflection on how society has come to expect certain things from the Church.
By saying people who have sex outside of a heterosexual marriage – whether that person is gay or straight, single or in a civil partnership – aren’t living up to their true purpose, the C of E is effectively shutting them out.
And although the Church says it has no issue with people being in same-sex couples, with the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown – the C of E’s Director of Mission and Public Affairs – telling UNILAD the C of E’s House of Bishops is ‘now open to opposite-sex couples as well as same-sex couples’, this just isn’t enough.
It’s not enough to be ‘open’ to things if your guidance and your teachings explicitly say people’s way of living isn’t right in God’s eyes. It’s not enough when people are prevented from practising your religion because they feel as though they don’t fit in.
And it’s certainly not enough when you refuse to let the people in your Church express all parts of their identity.
To make it clear, the purpose of the new guidance wasn’t same-sex sexual relations, but civil partnerships as a whole. The Church made clear it ‘seeks to… affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships’ within such partnerships.
In other words, those in (gay or straight) civil partnerships should abstain from sex entirely.
The guidance states that, unlike traditional marriage vows, the legislation on civil partnerships ‘leaves entirely open the nature of the commitment that members of a couple choose to make to each other when forming a civil partnership’.
In particular, it is not predicated on the intention to engage in a sexual relationship.
The Civil Partnership Act came into force in December 2005, allowing same-sex couples to acquire legal status and rights in relation to property, inheritance and tax entitlement.
After the supreme court ruled in 2018 that mixed-sex couples should also have the right to a civil partnership, the law was amended towards the end of last year.
Registering a partnership gives the same legal rights and responsibilities as a married couple, with the first mixed-sex civil partnerships being registered last month.
Yet the C of E doesn’t believe couples in civil partnerships have the same rights as those who are married, because ultimately it doesn’t believe they should be having sex.
The Revd Dr Malcolm Brown confirmed to UNILAD that the new guidance ‘acknowledges the long-standing teaching of the Church that the only proper context for sexual relationships is within marriage.’ He added, ‘That teaching has not changed’.
However, he said the Church does ‘recognise that there are disagreements in the Church about relationships, marriage, sex and sexuality’.
Because of this, Revd Dr Brown said the Church is in the process of preparing ‘major new teaching and learning resources about identity, relationships, marriage and sexuality seeking to find ways forward rooted in scripture and the Christian faith and which values everyone as a person loved and made in the image of God’.
That is due to be published later this year.
We’ll have to wait and see exactly what those resources consist of when they are published, but hopefully they will pave the way for a more accepting, diverse environment in which people can practise their faith.
Even if these resources do exactly that though, it’s unlikely that the C of E is going to change its stance on sexual relationships outside marriage – heterosexual or otherwise – anytime soon.
This, Alex says, proves that the Church ‘will never be able to adapt to a changing world’:
Whilst many heterosexual couples may want a civil partnership for other reasons rather than the lack of religious connotations, the refusal to accept this from the Church I feel will further jeopardise the role of ‘Christianity’ in the British psyche.
It feels outdated, redundant and an anchor on progressions in equality.
Joe Nellist, from the LGBT Foundation, told UNILAD the charity is ‘incredibly disappointed’ in the recent guidance issued, stating: ‘We know that this news will be met with heavy hearts by many LGBT Christians today’.
Sex is an important part of relationships for many people, as is their faith, and LGBT people deserve the right to express all parts of their identity.
The views expressed by the House of Bishops are out of line with many people across the country; the recent British Social Attitudes survey in 2019 show that 82% of Church of England/Anglican respondents felt that premarital sex is ‘rarely wrong’ or ‘not wrong at all’, and two-thirds of all respondents see nothing wrong in same-sex relationships.
Many LGBT people of faith have found love and acceptance in both their religious and LGBT communities, and we will continue to work with religious institutions to ensure that every LGBT person of faith is able to achieve their full potential.
The C of E has several references to the Bible on its website, one of those being: ‘God is love, and those who live in love live in God, and God lives in them’.
Yet the Church’s new guidance would have us believe that – regardless of whether or not you live in God’s love, and regardless of whether you are faithful to his teachings – if you’re having sex outside of marriage you’re somehow less worthy of his love.
This is wrong. Having sex outside of marriage is nothing to be ashamed of; in fact, the freedom to decide our own consensual adult relationships is a fundamental human right.
It’s time the C of E finally recognised this and stopped living in the past.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues, and want to speak to someone in confidence contact the LGBT Foundation on 0345 3 30 30 30, 9am until 9pm Monday to Friday, and 10am until 6pm Saturday, Or email [email protected]
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