Anglican debate on gay marriage: everything you need to know

Church leaders had risked a serious split over the issue of gay marriage Credit: PA

The Anglican church is facing a serious internal debate over its stance on gay relationships and same-sex marriage. Here are the key facts you need to know.

  • What has caused the row?

The Anglican church has faced a serious split over its stance on gay relationships after its American branch - the US Episcopal Church - began endorsing gay marriage in a major split from the church's central policy.

Religious leaders today agreed to sanction the US church for its support for gay relationships.

However, debate over the issue has led to deep divides within the church, risking a potential schism.

  • What is a schism?

A schism is a major divide within a religious group over a question of faith. It could ultimately lead some parts of the church to break away altogether and form a separate church if they cannot reach agreement.

Gay marriage campaigners in Ireland last year Credit: PA
  • What sections of the church are involved in the row?

The Anglican Communion is made up of the Church of England and regional Anglican churches around the world.There an estimated 85 million Christians within the 44 different Anglican Episcopal churches.

Africa has the largest number of Anglican communities worldwide, which are on the whole more conservative and remain overwhelmingly unsupportive of gay marriage.

In the US, the Episcopal Church is made up of 100 dioceses, which have taken a more liberal approach to the issue of same-sex marriage.

  • What did the church decide?

Church leaders gathered for a major summit this week aiming to prevent a permanent schism on the issues of same-sex marriage and homosexuality.

They have now agreed to sanction the US church for its liberal stance under an agreement which upheld the "traditional doctrine" of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

A statement released by church elders said the Episcopal Church had made a "fundamental departure from the faith and teaching" by endorsing gay marriage.

The Episcopal Church has been banned from taking part in ecumenical and interfaith bodies, internal committees or votes on doctrine or polity for a period of three years.

A man protests legal gay marriage outside St Margaret's Church, Westminster Abbey Credit: PA
  • Which side won in the agreement?

The agreement was a victory for the conservatives, which has been criticised by some as old-fashioned and homophobic.

Senior Labour MP and former Anglican minister Chris Bryant said he had given up on the Anglican church after the "love-empty" decision. He added: "One day it will seem wrong as supporting slavery."

  • So are the conservatives happy?

Not exactly. Some African representatives threatened to walk out, and the Archbishop of Uganda, Stanley Ntagali, did leave after he failed to win support for a motion calling for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to withdraw from Communion activities.

A man at a gay pride march in the US Credit: Reuters
  • What happens now?

The church leaders have asked The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby to lead a task group which will help restore relationships, rebuild trust, heal a "legacy of hurt", and recognise the extent of their commonality and explore "deep differences".

Archbishop Welby is expected to make a statement on Friday.