Thursday, 5 April 2007

Bishop of Chelmsford's speech to General Synod on Civil Partnerships

The Bishop of Chelmsford (Rt Revd John Gladwin):
I want to speak just for a moment or two because I led in relation to this issue when it came to the House of Lords on a number of occasions, and I thought it right just to brief the Synod with regard to my understanding of what Parliament was doing. In the final round of the debates on this issue, I did directly ask the question of the Government as to the doctrine of marriage held in English law, and Baroness Scotland, who led on these matters for the Government in the House of Lords, made it very clear that the legislation on civil partnerships is not marriage. I made it very clear that no bishop could vote for an Act on civil partnerships which could in any way be interpreted as marriage. The doctrine of marriage held in English law is unchanged, and the doctrine of marriage held in this Church is unchanged. A marriage is a union of a man and a woman who are of an age to marry and who freely give their consent.

In a few weeks’ time I am conducting a marriage somewhere else in the country of a young couple; she is already pregnant and expecting a child. They have got the order the wrong way round but they are very clear that, as a man and a woman, they are in love with each other and they want to be joined together as one flesh in the union of marriage. Marriage appropriately for couples, of course, involves the possibility of bearing children and raising families. All of that is embodied in the law of our country as well as in the doctrine of the Church. It is very important therefore, whether we think this legislation is good or bad legislation – and there is a proper debate about that because it is complex – that we as Christians do not go round talking of civil partnerships as if they were marriage. That is the vital thing that we need to get right, and if we get that right, whatever our view on the legislation, and whatever our view on civil partnerships, we might find ourselves sharing a common perspective on our understanding of marriage which, in my view, was well set out in the House of Bishops’ statement a few years ago.

Early last year I attended my first civil partnership in one of the town halls in London: two people who had been living together for over 40 years. They were entering a civil partnership in order that the rights and obligations that go with it could be publicly affirmed. Both of them have been churchwardens in their parishes and have served our Church all the duration of their lives. One of them said to me – and there were a number of clergy there in the town hall - ‘What a pity we couldn’t have some prayers’. I thought to myself, with regard to Christian ministry in the future, I must never, in terms of people entering these partnerships, fail in my duty of bringing Christian ministry to bear at this important moment in their lives. I am very clear that there is no service in the Church of England for the blessing of same-sex relationships; we have not got one. That does not mean to say that we cannot, with thankfulness, support and enable and pastor people who are entering these relationships and obligations and help them as they help us to live holy and godly lives.

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