The Church of England’s main legislative body has rejected a report saying marriage can only be between a man and a woman, plunging the church into a new crisis.
England’s state church is deeply divided over the issue, with liberals calling on it to change Christian doctrine on the issue while conservatives insist such a change is impossible.
The report by the House of Bishops, which together with the houses of Clergy and Laity makes up the General Synod, re-affirmed church teaching on marriage, but also called for a “fresh tone and culture of welcome and support for lesbian and gay people”.
However, a campaign by liberal elements within the Synod led to a motion to “take note” of the report – usually purely procedural – failing after the House of Clergy voted against it.
The motion was passed by the other two houses, and received the support of the majority of those present, but its rejection by the clergy means it was defeated.
However, it later emerged several members, including the Bishop of Coventry, may have voted the wrong way after becoming confused about which button to press.
One lay member told Christian Today of a sense of “chaos” in the chamber: “Other people around me were talking about their own misunderstandings.
“The voting wasn’t clear. I have concerns, someone got shouted over, it was very confusing.”
The vote now means the church’s position on the issue is in disarray, and is especially awkward for the Church of England just months after the worldwide Anglican Communion suspended the U.S. Episcopalian Church for endorsing same-sex marriage.
Many mainstream news outlets have hailed the vote as a “step forward” for gay marriage in the Established Church, with The Telegraph in particular writing: “Anglicans come a step closer to gay marriages in church.”
However, critics have said the vote only leaves the church even more divided than before.
One Church of England priest wrote: “If people think that last night the synod gave birth to something new, it was an aborted effort, with all the tragedy that analogy brings with it.
“Past the fake news and post-truth headlines and spin, the simple fact is that the Church of England is going nowhere fast on the gay issue. We have no path forward at present…
“The bishops spent months wrestling with the seriousness of the conflict in the Church, working out what could and couldn’t be done, processing through the various options and, in my humble opinion, bringing to the synod the best possible solution at the present time…
“As of last night, we’re right back to where we were decades ago.”