Five more Anglican bishops have publicly backed a call for the Church of England to lift its ban on same-sex marriage, in a sign that momentum may be building for a historic change.
The bishops of Worcester and Dudley have written to all clergy in their area saying “the time has come for the church to celebrate and honour same sex relations”. John Inge, a senior bishop, and Martin Gorick, a junior bishop in the diocese, said they favoured same-sex couples being able to marry in church, although clergy should be permitted to act according to their conscience on the issue.
Inge added in a tweet: “I stand convicted of being silent for too long in what, I persuaded myself, was the imperative of unity. I offer my apologies to all those who have been hurt.”
The bishops of Reading, Buckingham and Dorchester all tweeted their endorsement of an essay published on Friday by Steven Croft, the bishop of Oxford, arguing that the C of E should end its refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry in church.
Olivia Graham of Reading and Gavin Collins of Dorchester both said Croft had set out “compassionate and courageous views”. Alan Wilson of Buckingham thanked Croft for “articulating an honest and Godly view”. All three are junior bishops in the diocese of Oxford.
Croft became the most senior serving bishop to publicly state his support for same-sex marriages to be conducted by the church, and for clergy to be permitted to marry a same-sex partner.
He said the church’s refusal to treat same-sex couples equally had angered and alienated a generation. He apologised that his own views “were slow to change”.
Croft’s intervention came after C of E bishops met for three days this week to discuss the issue, which has bitterly divided the church for decades. Next month, they will decide on a recommendation to go before the General Synod, the C of E’s governing body, in February.
Although Justin Welby, the archbishop of Canterbury, recently affirmed the validity of a 1998 declaration that gay sex was a sin, there are signs that the C of E may be moving towards allowing clergy to follow their conscience on the issue.
A recent survey found that more than 1,100 licensed C of E priests were willing to conduct same-sex marriages if they become legal. A separate analysis of the views of 6,400 church-goers warned that division within the church over the issue was a “disaster that will go on and on”.
Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for LGBT+ equality in the C of E, said: “It is really heartening to see a number of bishops now stepping forward and adding their voice to Croft’s calling for a church that seeks to honour and celebrate same-sex love.