The archbishops of Canterbury and York have apologised after the Church of England (CofE) declared only heterosexual married couples should have sex.
Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu said they took responsibility for releasing the CofE statement last week which they acknowledged had “jeopardised trust”.
The pastoral guidance was issued to clergy after a recent change in UK law allowed straight couples to tie the knot in a civil ceremony instead of a traditional marriage following a lengthy legal battle.
It said civil partnerships should be no more than “sexually abstinent friendships”.
The archbishops said in a statement on Thursday: “We as Archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologise and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardised trust.
“We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”
The CofE statement issued last week said: “With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.
“For Christians, marriage, that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows, remains the proper context for sexual activity.
“In its approach to civil partnerships the Church seeks to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.”
We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused
The pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England, added: “Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings.”
The church has for decades grappled with how it addresses LGBT rights as the views of society become more liberal.
It is currently carrying out a “major study” on human sexuality called Living in Love and Faith, which is due to be published later this year.
The archbishops said they were continuing their commitment to the study.
“This process is intended to help us all to build bridges that will enable the difficult conversations that are necessary as, together, we discern the way forward for the Church of England,” they said in a statement.
Since New Year’s Eve, heterosexual couples have been able to opt for the civil option over a traditional marriage.
The CofE allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships provided they are sexually abstinent.