The Church of England will offer blessings for same-sex couples following a historic vote by its governing body on Thursday.
However, its stance on gay marriage will remain unchanged, and same-sex couples will also not be allowed to marry in church.
Following eight hours of debate across two days, the Church’s national assembly, the General Synod, voted 250 by 181 to back a proposal put forward by bishops following years of heated debates over sexuality.
The motion, in essence, would allow gay couples in civil marriages to go to Anglican churches for services including “prayers of dedication, thanksgiving and God’s blessing,” the BBC reported.
The synod also said that the church would apologize for the harm it caused to the LGBTQ+ community, and that it would allow a review of a ban on clergy entering same-sex civil marriages, in addition to a celibacy rule for clergy in same-sex relationships.
The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullally, who led the debate and chairs the group which oversaw the development of the proposals, said that the next few months will be spent preparing “new pastoral guidance for the Church on matters of sexuality and marriage.”
“We will also refine the texts of Prayers of Love and Faith,” she added.
The plans, which were suggested by bishops last month, have been criticized by some for going too far, while others say it does not do enough for the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, priests have the option to bless gay couples, but don’t necessarily need to.
“No one has to offer these services and no one will be disadvantaged if they don’t,” he told the Synod.
Some members of the Church of England have taken more liberal positions with interpretations of Anglicanism.
Earlier this week, the church said it would explore using gender neutral pronouns when referring to God, but has no immediate plans to change their services.
A YouGov poll of Anglican priests conducted in 2014 found that around 2% of respondents didn’t believe in God. Around 16% found the existence of God to be unclear.
The View From The Vatican
In 2021, the Vatican said the Roman Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex marriages, irrespective of how positive the couple’s relationship is. The Vatican stated at the time that God “does not and cannot bless sin.”
In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Pope Francis said that “being homosexual isn’t a crime,” adding that God loves all his children as they are.
The pope, however, referred to the issue as a “sin” and acknowledged that some Catholic bishops in other parts of the world support laws that criminalized homosexuality, saying that it was a result of differing cultural attitudes. However he said change was needed, and bishops should do more to welcome members of the LGBTQ+ community into the church.
Laws prohibiting homosexuality within the Catholic Church are most common in Africa and the Middle East, where laws from the colonial era have continued to be upheld.
Some Catholic bishops say that criminalizing homosexuality is consistent with Vatican teachings which describe it as “intrinsically disordered.”