Britain's Quakers formally began their discussions on same-sex partnerships at their Yearly Meeting Gathering in York yesterday. They are considering whether to carry out commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples on the same basis as heterosexual weddings.
The proposal has caused controversy within the Religious Society of Friends, as Quakers are formally known, but this week they are seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit to lead them into unity.
“For a long time Friends have been concerned to recognise and celebrate the different kinds of personal relationships within our Quaker community,” said Colin Billet, introducing the topic with a balanced presentation to a plenary session.
He pointed out evidence of changing views amongst Quakers and in Britain as a whole. He reported that 58 Quaker Meetings surveyed said that attitudes had shifted in recent years. Only four said that they had not.
However, Billet acknowledged that some Friends regarded homosexuality as “immoral, unnatural and against the teaching of the wider Christian Church”.
Although about 20 Quaker Meetings in Britain have held ceremonies for same-sex commitments during the last 12 years, there is no clear national guidance on the issue and such partnerships are not registered in the Society's records in the same way as heterosexual marriages.
This week's Yearly Meeting will consider changing this situation with revisions to Quaker Faith and Practice, the Society's "book of Christian discipline".
The most radical proposal involves urging Quaker registering offices to register same-sex partnerships as marriages, thus challenging the law on the issue.
Billet encouraged Friends to pray that God would keep them together in their hearts.
The Quakers will explore the issue with reflection and discussion today, before a formal decision-making session on Thursday.
British Quakers' Yearly Meeting will continue until Saturday at York University.