Open Letter to the House of Bishops

This is the text of the Open Letter to the House of Bishops that we published on our website in 2019.

The Church of England currently finds itself in an untenable position because of its grudging and sometimes hostile attitude towards LGBTI people and especially its unjust treatment of loving, committed same-gender couples. This is causing great harm to its reputation and risks damaging the standing of the Church of England in national life.

The nub of this is the discrimination by the Church in its official attitude to marriage. Same-gender couples can marry in a civil ceremony but are not allowed to celebrate their marriage in a C of E church – and there are many such Christian couples who would love to be able to make their vows to each other before God and as part of their church community.

If one or both of a same-gender couple are clergy, or ordinands, or in recognized lay ministry, their situation is even worse. If they decide to marry, at once many doors are closed to them. Clergy will be disciplined and refused a future licence or permission to officiate, and may lose their home; they will not be considered for another post even if they are ideally suited to it; the ordained ministry to which God has called them can be virtually at an end, which is a painful loss to them and also a loss to the congregations and parishes in which they serve. Those wishing to explore ordination will be rejected without even being considered for suitability and before any attempt is made to discern their calling to ministry. Lay ministers may be asked to step down from their roles. All this would be illegal were it not for the exemptions that the Church of England controversially obtained from the Equality Act 2010.

This discrimination against same-gender couples is widely seen to be prejudiced and unjust – not only by ordinary people, especially the young, but by Parliament and by the majority of churchgoing Anglicans. It damages our reputation, and more importantly it is a huge hindrance to our mission. How can we effectively share the good news of Jesus Christ and the love of God when we ourselves behave unlovingly and unjustly?

We acknowledge there are different views of the theology of marriage, but the Church of England has been able to accommodate such differences in the similar issue of remarriage in church after divorce, where provision has been made to allow all clergy to act according to their beliefs and conscience; we believe this is the best way to proceed for the marriage of same-gender couples in church.

We have spent decades commissioning reports on sexuality and not acting on them, listening to LGBTI people but not hearing what they say, stifling debate and ruling out significant change. This is getting us nowhere, and is damaging our spiritual life. It cannot continue.

The time for change is now. It is vital and urgent for the Church of England to embrace equal marriage in our churches, not grudgingly but willingly and joyously, and to end discrimination against same-gender married couples.

We therefore call on the House of Bishops to:

  • Work with General Synod and Parliament to remove the canonical and legal obstacles to the marriage of same-gender couples in our churches, so that all such couples can marry in church if they ask to do so.
  • Enable all clergy to marry same-gender couples if they believe it is right to do so, while ensuring that clergy who conscientiously disagree can decline to marry same‑gender couples.
  • End all discrimination against clergy and laity who are married to someone of the same gender.

We assure the House of Bishops of our prayers for them and the whole Church as together we recognize God’s Spirit calling us to love all our sisters and brothers without ‘making distinctions’ (James 2.4).

All the signatories to this letter have affirmed that they are members of the Church of England or of another Church within the Anglican Communion.

We invited Anglicans, lay and clergy, from every Province in the Anglican Communion to sign the letter by means of a website form. All signatures were verified by emailing the signatories and asking them to click a private link that only they had access to.