Bishops in the Church of England have refused to back a change in teaching to allow priests to marry same-sex couples.
A statement released after a House of Bishops meeting this week says the “formal teaching of the Church of England as set out in the canons and authorised liturgies – that Holy Matrimony is between one man and one woman for life – would not change”.
It follows six years of consultation and discussion known as Living in Love and Faith.
Under the proposals to be put before General Synod next month, same-sex couples would not be able to get married in a Church of England church, but could have a service in which there would be prayers of dedication in church following a civil marriage or partnership.
The Bishops will be issuing an apology later this week to LGBTQI+ people for the “rejection, exclusion and hostility” they have faced in churches and the impact this has had on their lives.
In a statement, the Church of England says the proposals will “offer the fullest possible pastoral provision without changing the Church’s doctrine of Holy Matrimony for same-sex couples through a range of draft prayers”.
They will be known as “Prayers of Love and Faith” and “could be used voluntarily in churches for couples who have marked a significant stage of their relationship such as a civil marriage or civil partnership”.
The Church says it will also produce new pastoral guidance in relation to a controversial church document from 1991 that says clergy in same-sex relationships must remain celibate.
The Bishops say they encourage all congregations in their care to welcome same-sex couples “unreservedly and joyfully” as they reaffirm their commitment to a “radical new Christian inclusion founded in scripture, in reason, in tradition, in theology and the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it – based on good, healthy, flourishing relationships, and in a proper 21st Century understanding of being human and of being sexual”.
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who chaired the group of bishops which led the process of discernment and decision making, said: “I want to offer my heartfelt thanks to all who have participated in the process which has brought us to this point.
“I know that this has been costly and painful for many on all sides of the debate and has touched on deeply personal matters and strongly held beliefs.
“We have been moved by what we have heard and seen. And what has come through very clearly, even though there continues to be disagreement among the bishops and among the wider church on these questions, is a strong desire to continue to share our life together in Christ with all our differences.”
The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, said: “Over the last six years, we have been confronted time and time again with examples of the rejection, exclusion, and hostility that many LGBTQI+ people have received in churches.
“Both personally and on behalf of my fellow bishops I would like to express our deep sorrow and grief at the way LGBTQI+ people and those they love have been treated by the Church which, most of all, ought to recognise everyone as precious and created in the image of God.
“We are deeply sorry and ashamed and want to take this opportunity to begin again in the spirit of repentance which our faith teaches us.
“This is not the end of that journey but we have reached a milestone and I hope that these prayers of love and faith can provide a way for us all to celebrate and affirm same-sex relationships.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “I would like to thank all those across the Church of England who have participated in this deeply prayerful and theologically grounded process of discernment over the last six years.
“This response reflects the diversity of views in the Church of England on questions of sexuality, relationships and marriage – I rejoice in that diversity and I welcome this way of reflecting it in the life of our church."
Campaigners in favour of same-sex marriage have expressed their disappointment to the announcement. Jayne Ozanne, director of the Ozanne Foundation which works for equality and inclusion, described the announcement as an “utterly despicable outcome”.
She tweeted: “I cannot believe that 5 years of pain and trauma has got us to here! We have had countless apologies over the years but no action to stop the harmful discrimination. It’s insulting to all who trusted the process.”