Reports in the Telegraph this morning that the Archbishop of Canterbury has essentially told parliamentarians where to go.
Dr Rowan Williams has refused to be drawn on the issue publicly, but has broken his silence to tell MPs he is not prepared for the Coalition to tell the Church how to behave. He told a private meeting of influential politicians that the Church of England would not bow to public pressure to allow its buildings to be used to conduct same-sex civil partnerships.
The comments are the first time he has spoken since the Coalition unveiled plans to allow religious buildings to be used to conduct homosexual partnership ceremonies. While the Church has been bitterly divided over the role of its homosexual clergy, he said it held a clear position that marriage is between a man and a woman and would not consider changing this stance. The tough line taken by the archbishop will frustrate liberals in the Church who have become increasingly disillusioned by his support for a conservative approach to controversial issues.
It also disappointed MPs who hoped he would be more sympathetic to proposals from the Government that give greater rights to homosexual couples looking to have their partnership blessed by the Church. Dr Williams was regarded as a liberal when he was appointed as archbishop, but has constantly sacrificed his private beliefs to maintain the unity of the Church.
The meeting was set up by Tony Baldry, the Conservative MP for North Oxfordshire and Second Church Estates Commissioner, who is looking to build relationships between the archbishop and politicians. Challenged by Simon Kirby, the Tory MP for Brighton Kempton, to explain what he would say to a same-sex couple wanting a church union, he said that the Church is welcoming to homosexuals and permits its clergy to enter civil partnerships. However, he stressed that it would not countenance weakening its teaching on marriage and said that it would not be dictated to by the Government.
But Mr Kirby said that the Dr Williams’s comments threaten to alienate homosexual churchgoers and would give rise to accusations that the Church out of touch with society. “I hoped he might be more measured in his response and reflect on the cases for both sides of the argument more evenly, but he was very one sided,” he said. “Public opinion is moving faster than the Church on this issue and it is increasingly in danger of getting left behind. “Obviously it is a difficult issue for the Church, but it has many gay men and women who want to be treated the same way as everyone else.”
Naturally, some people don’t like this.