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The Church of England has declared that sex should be reserved for married, heterosexual couples only.
In new guidance issued to bishops, the church claims that sex outside of straight marriages “[falls] short of God’s purpose for human beings.”
The church, which is headed by Queen Elizabeth II, issued a pastoral statement via the House of Bishops of the Church of England after changes to civil partnerships in the United Kingdom.
Civil partnerships were made available to same-sex couples in 2005 as a form of legal recognition of relationships, prior to full marriage equality in 2014. However, in 2018, a court ruling required civil partnerships to be extended to opposite-sex couples, with legislation reflecting that change passing in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. (Scotland is considering similar legislation.)
As such, the church has issued new guidance that only heterosexual couples who get married, not those in civil partnerships, should be having sex. Same-sex couples, meanwhile, should remain celibate regardless of their union.
“For Christians, marriage — that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity,” the church said.
The church opposes same-sex marriage, arguing that marriage is “defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman making a public commitment to each other.”
As such, the church teaches that “sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively.”
“Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings,” the guidance states.
Speaking to The Guardian, LGBTQ rights campaigner Jayne Ozanne, who is a member of the Church of England’s ruling body, said she was “sadly unsurprised by the content of this statement but I’m deeply saddened by its tone.
“It will appear far from ‘pastoral’ to those it discusses and shows little evidence of the ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ that we have been promised,” she said. “I look forward to the day when the C of E sets its house in order, extends a proper welcome to all and makes confused ‘pastoral statements’ like this redundant.”
The Church of England has made moves to embrace LGBTQ Christians and clergy members, including allowing gay clergy members to enter same-sex civil partnerships — as long as they remain celibate.
The church also voted in 2017 to issue a statement of support for transgender people, saying they should be “welcomed and affirmed in their parish church.”
Transgender people may also be married in Church of England ceremonies, as long as they are marrying an opposite-sex partner, and allows priests to transition and remain in office — as well as ordaining openly trans clergy.
However, it remains opposed to same-sex relationships where celibacy is not followed, and advises clergy that they “should not provide services of blessing for those who register a civil partnership.”
The church also refuses to allow same-sex weddings, though it permits individual churches to hold “a service of thanksgiving” after a ceremony.
Activists have pointed to the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues as one of the reasons for its declining membership, particularly among younger people.
“The [Church of England] is unable to get over its fixation on homosexuality,” Linda Woodhead, a professor in Lancaster University’s department of politics, philosophy and religion, told The Guardian.
She said the fixation was “driving the the national church into a position more like a fundamentalist sect and does not speak to the vast majority of younger people today.”
The Church of England is the mother church of the Anglican Communion, which also includes the Episcopal Church in the United States.
However, despite the Church of England’s stance, the Episcopal Church has made moves to embrace LGBTQ people and clergy, including calling for full legal equality for LGBTQ people and allowing the blessing of same-sex marriages.
In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay person to be ordained as a bishop.
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