The Bishop of Salisbury, Nicholas Holtam, has supported a number of senior Church of England clergy who signed a letter encouraging Christians to welcome same-sex marriage.
Bishop Holtam made his position clear, similar to that of the clergy letter, in an address to a major equality conference in London organised by the Cutting Edge Consortium - which brings together civic and religious groups with a common concern to promote justice and equal treatment.
In a letter to the Times yesterday (21 April 2012), the clergy declared, “That there are same-sex couples who want to embrace marriage should be a cause for rejoicing in the Christian Church”.
Signatories include the Dean of St Albans, Jeffrey John – who is openly gay – and the deans of Guildford, Norwich and Portsmouth.
Their intervention comes shortly after the Anglican Archbishop of Wales, Barry Morgan, expressed his support for same-sex marriage.
They also criticised other church leaders who have “given the mistaken impression that the Church is universally opposed to the extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples”. They insisted, “We believe that does not adequately reflect the range of opinion which exists within the Church of England”.
Several Anglican leaders have recently attacked government plans to legislate for marriage rights for same-sex couples. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, said the Prime Minister would be acting “like a dictator” if he tried to “redefine” marriage. The Church of England has adopted an official position of opposing the plans, despite internal dissent.
Yesterday's letter argued that “the Church of England has nothing to fear from the introduction of civil marriage for same-sex couples”.
The government is planning to introduce legal recognition of same-sex marriage in England and Wales by 2015. However, they have ruled out allowing religious groups to carry out legally recognised same-sex marriages, insisting that their plans apply to civil marriage ceremonies only.
The letter declared, “The Church calls marriage holy or sacramental because the covenant relationship of committed, faithful love between the couple reflects the covenanted love and commitment between God and his Church. Growing in this kind of love means we are growing in the image of God."
On the same day that the letter appeared, the Bishop of Salisbury made his rallying call of support for same-sex marriage in his speech to the Cutting Edge conference in London. The event brought together religious and non-religious group working against homophobia and transphobia.
Nicholas Holtam told the conference “It is a disaster that we have allowed the Church to be seen as the opposition to equal marriage”.
He also said that a married person who transitions gender should be able to stay married if both parties wish it. Currently, the law automatically dissolves the marriage.
The Bishop argued that most people saw the Church's opposition to equality legislation as “immoral”. He expressed frustration that he could bless a bridge or a new block of toilets but not “a loving couple who want to spend their lives together” if they were of the same sex.
Asked about other forms of marriage and relationships, Holtam said “There are some examples of marriage being more varied than the current conversation is allowing”. He acknowledged that “there is a real issue about the marginalisation of other forms of relationship”. But he was keen to emphasise his support for marriages as “faithful, loving, lifelong commitments that are sustained by prayer and the support of the faith community”.