Words: Steve Brown
The Church of England has said that sex is for married, heterosexual couples only and that Christians in gay or straight civil partnerships should be abstinent.
With the recent introduction of mixed-sex civil partnerships, Church of England bishops have issued pastoral guidance in response and said: “For Christians, marriage – that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contract with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”
It then added: “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.”
The Civil Partnership Act was introduced back in 2005 and allowed same-sex couples to have legal status and rights in relation to property inheritance and tax entitlement. Marriage equality was legalised in England in 2013.
Despite the Church of England allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships, they must remain sexually abstinent. The Church does not permit or recognise same-sex marriage.
The Rev Dr Malcolm Brown, the C of E’s director of mission and public affairs, told The Guardian: “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.”
This week the House of Bishops issued a new pastoral statement on civil partnerships, restating traditional teaching on sex and marriage.
They say 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.
“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.”
It says that Church of England clergy members ‘should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership’.