Same-sex couples will be able to request a dedicated ceremony of blessing in the Church of England via a trial process, following a vote on the issue by the General Synod on Wednesday.
The decision comes after two and half days of debating the Living in Love and Faith proposals authored by senior clerics in the denomination. The final motion achieved a narrow majority in all three houses which together make up the church's legislative body: the House of Bishops, Clergy and Laity.
LGBT couples will be able to invite their friends and family to a special ceremony to celebrate their union.
While the plans originally proposed did allow priests to use same-sex prayers of blessing as part of an existing service, standalone services were initially tabled for further debate and a longer canonical process with possible implementation by 2025. However, as a result of an amendment proposed by the Bishop of Oxford, Rt Rev Steven Croft, same-sex couples won’t have to wait until 2025.
Bishop Steven's request was that same-sex standalone services be trialled on a temporary basis while being considered for permanent use, under a canonical process known as B2. The amendment was narrowedly approved. In the House of Bishops, 23 voted for, ten against and four abstained. Among clergy, there were 100 votes for and 93 against, with one abstention. Within the laity, 104 voted in favour and 100 against, with no abstentions.
Speaking to Premier, the Bishop of London Rt Rev Sarah Mullaly said that while the Prayers of Love and Faith are expected to be ready for use by mid-December, it’s unknown when the details and structure for standalone services will be in place.
"I'm almost certain that we would want to share again our progress with Synod in February, particularly around how the process will look for getting the standalone services authorised, probably more around the pastoral guidance, particularly related to ministry and also around how we listen, which is the other reassurance that people would want."
When asked about the difference between standalone services and marriage ceremonies, Bishop Sarah told Premier: "The Church of England is not offering same-sex marriage services. This is about offering a standalone service to a couple in a stable, lifelong relationship with one another, who want to come in, give thanks for all those things that are good about their relationship and to ask for God's blessing. A standalone service is one where that is the only focus of the service. Therefore, we've agreed that we will work with Synod to authorise those services."
Following the debate, Rev John Dunnett, the national directior of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), said the organisation was "grieved and saddened" by the decision and described it as "a watershed moment...it appears that the Church of England no longer sees Scripture as our supreme authority".
For those on the other side of the debate though, it was a moment to celebrate the "small progress made". Charie Bell, an LGBT anglican priest wrote on X: "Te Deum Laudamus! (We Praise you God). After all the delaying tactics, the talk of our being outside the grace of God, after endless scapegoating of queer people, after years and years of bearing our souls, the glass has cracked and grace is seeping out. In te Domine speravi! (In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust)."