The Church of Ireland Gazette has issued a controversial proposal that the denomination creates a new affirmation ceremony for couples in civil same-sex marriages.
The exciting proposal comes after the worldwide Anglican church agreed earlier this month to sanction its US branch over its “fundamental departure” from the faith by endorsing marriage equality.
The editorially independent publication for the Church of Ireland argues for the introduction of an “affirmation ceremony” for civil same-sex marriage – based on the precedent of the Church blessing the remarriage of divorcees when that was also once contrary to the Church’s teaching. Some traditionalists would contend that both actions by the Church would contravene scripture but the Gazette argues that since the Church has long affirmed the former, it now has no reason not to support the latter also.
A particular question arises, the Gazette editorial said, as to how the Church should approach committed members of the Church of Ireland who have entered into “civil same-sex marriages”. Only civil partnerships are available to date in its northern jurisdiction, while gay marriage is now lawful in the south.
“The teaching of the Church is clear that marriage is both heterosexual and lifelong in its purpose (Canon 31),” the editorial said.
However, the Church has already made provision for the remarriage in church of divorced persons, subject to special pastoral requirements in each case.
Therefore, the editorial suggests, “it is now for the Church to consider, as a matter of some urgency, what its pastoral approach is to be in relation to church going couples who are in civil same-sex marriages”.
For some people, the blessing of civil remarriages at the time was “hypocritical”, the Gazette said, because “it was seen as blessing something of which the Church did not approve”.
It added: “Yet, the service was an expression of the Church’s acceptance of individuals’ right to differ from the Church in terms of how they lived their lives in this regard.
“It was not hypocrisy; it was about the Church accepting that it is not, actually, infallible and that individual Christian people have a right, to some extent at least, to disagree with the Church while remaining fully in communion with it.
The Church of Ireland Gazette concluded its argument for some form of ceremony of affirmation for couples in same-sex civil marriages, suggesting that because of the importance of the matter “and the sensitivities involved, it might be that such a ministry should be one performed by bishops at their discretion, or by a member of the clergy designated by the bishop to perform such a ministry on the bishop’s behalf”.
It added: “It would, in effect, be to say: ‘While the Church does not allow for same-sex marriage in its doctrine and rites, the Church respects your decision and affirms your place in its life.”
A leading Church of Ireland cleric – Canon Ian Ellis said earlier this month that the Anglican Communion’s three-year suspension of the US Episcopal Church from decision-making for allowing same-sex marriage may have been the only way of avoiding an even worse situation developing.
Anglicans have been debating equal rights since the US Episcopal Church ordained an openly gay bishop in 2003.
January 2016’s four-day meeting of 39 Anglican primates in Canterbury ended with the more liberal US branch of the Church being suspended from “participating in the life and work of the Anglican communion.”
Canon Ellis, who is editor of the independent Church of Ireland Gazette, told the Belfast Telegraph: “What was decided by the Primates in Canterbury last week was necessary to avoid the ongoing crisis within the Anglican Communion over same-sex relationships from deepening yet further.”
He also said the Primates’ decision, which prevents the American churches taking part in worldwide Anglican Communion decisions for three years, was “a sanction”.
He added: “I believe that as the issue continues to be debated in the Communion, all Anglicans should try to stay together and listen carefully to one another.”
Canon Ellis underlined that “the reality is that within the Church of Ireland we are going to find committed parishioners in some churches who are in same-sex civil marriages.