For same-sex couples, being gay and being a Christian doesn’t always fit together easily, especially when they are making plans for their wedding day. They may be welcomed week-after-week to worship within the Church of England, but it is a welcome that is not extended to hosting their marriage ceremony.
But one vicar, who is part of the team leading a project reviewing the church’s position on same-sex relationships says he believes the church has reached a point where change in some form is now inevitable. It means the church could be closer than ever to allowing gay couples to marry.
Same-sex weddings were made legal in England and Wales in 2014, but those same laws also protected the Church of England’s right to NOT hold such ceremonies without the fear of being taken to court under equality legislation.
Eight years on, the church is pulling together comments from congregations all over the country who have been asked to reflect on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in church.
It is an issue I personally wrestle with. I am gay and starting to think about planning my own wedding and when people ask me what sort of ceremony I would like, I don’t yet have an answer because I know that one option that is not open to me is to have a ceremony in my church.
That’s why I set out to investigate what is a difficult issue for the church in the hope that it would help me understand my own feelings on the subject. I’m not someone who is campaigning for change, but instead I am trying to better understand the passionate views on both sides of the debate.
Ronni and Bek Taylor-Blackford live in Camden and most weeks they worship at a church in central London. They describe it as “home” and cannot praise the other members of the congregation enough for how welcoming and inclusive they are.
They both met through church but feel like on their wedding day last summer they had to choose between being gay and being a Christian because, like any same-sex couple, they were not allowed to marry within the Church of England.
Ronni told me: “I think it would have just been so wonderful to be able to celebrate our love and our future together in in the church that we call home, surrounded by so many people who would recognise the faith aspect of our relationship.
"There is a sort of sense of you are not welcome here and you know, God is love and God loves all of their children. But maybe it doesn't extend to you within the church."
Bek added: "For me, the main frustration is that I just want the institution to catch up with the wonderful people that I know.”
Watch more from Ronni and Bek Taylor-Blackford as they speak about their relationship and their hope for the Church of England to change its stance on same-sex marriage:
Earlier this year new research for an organisation campaigning for same-sex marriage within the church showed increasing support for change. It found that more than half of people who self-identify as Anglicans agree that same-sex weddings are “right”.
Among the organisations actively campaigning for the Church of England to change its rules, are Equal and MOSAIC (Movement of Supporting Anglicans for an Inclusive Church).
They have members around the country including some members of the clergy who have told us how difficult they find the current position.
Some say it is one of the hardest parts of their job turning away same-sex couples who are very much in love.
'How can you preach a gospel that says everyone is welcome and then say but, and our country calls foul on that'
Their progressive view is just one side of the debate.
There is another equally passionately held but traditional view that marriage can only take place between one man and one woman and to change the Church of England’s view on that would be going against what is written in the bible.
It is a view held by members of the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) who want the current position of the church to remain, preventing same-sex couples from marrying with the church.
Rev Dr Ian Paul, from the CEEC, who says “I don't think I'd want to characterise it as opposition to something. I think I'd rather talk about as being advocacy for something and the advocacy is for retaining the church's historic understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman. Most people recognise that's a fairly clear teaching of Jesus.”
Watch more from Rev Dr Ian Paul explaining the theological reasons why he believes it is so important that the Church of England maintains its current position:
The Church of England accepted several years ago that a debate was needed between these two polarising views and began the Living in Love and Faith project which is now close to concluding.
It has involved conversations with members of church congregations across the country.
The many views expressed are currently being pulled together and later this year it is expected they will help inform a decision on whether to put options for change to the General Synod which is the church’s governing body.
One of the those leading the project is Canon Giles Goddard, vicar of St John’s Waterloo who is himself gay and in a civil partnership.
He has actively campaigned for the church to become more inclusive but says he is keen to make sure that the project reflects the broad range of views on the divisive issue before any decisions are taken.
He told us: “I'd be surprised if there wasn't some kind of recognition through a service at least in the reasonably near future.
"One possible end point is that same-sex marriage is treated exactly the equivalent of opposite-sex marriage. It's a situation I'd like us to reach, of course, but in the meantime, it may be that we have some kind of service of thanksgiving or service a blessing or some kind of recognition.
"The crucial thing is that there's equality between the different views and those of us who want to be more progressive are not just grudgingly accepted.”
Watch more from our interview with Canon Giles Goddard explaining how the Living in Love and Faith Project is gathering views from across the Church of England:
The General Synod is due to meet early in 2023 and if it is to consider such big changes it is likely that they would first be discussed by senior Bishops within the church later this year.
So where does this leave my personal investigation of the issue?
When I began I thought that the ban on same-sex couples marrying within the church was permanent and unchangeable.
Since then I have heard from a range of people working to change that, but I have also heard the equally passionate views for the status quo to remain.
Hearing one senior member of the church’s clergy say he believes some form of change is inevitable surprised me, and if he is right, it will be one of the biggest changes we have ever seen within the Church of England.
Canon Giles Goddard believes there is only so long that the church can continue to have a position which differs from the law of the land.
Change may be as divisive as not changing. There would be some who feel the church no longer represents views, but that is also a position which those campaigning for change already feel now.
If the issue does, as now seems likely, end up being debated by General Synod it will require what was written in the bible hundreds of years ago to be debated alongside the views and values of people living today.
It will not be an easy journey whatever the outcome.
One measure of success will be ensuring that all those views are heard and considered. That would be my hope.
But for those with deeply held views on both sides their only measure of success will be making sure it is their view which the Church takes forward into the years ahead.
Watch James Webster's full report examining whether the Church of England could soon be ready to start allowing same-sex marriages: