This has to be among the most ludicrous things I have ever heard: Britain’s Sunday Times reports that leaders of the Anglican Communion, which teeters on the brink of schism due to a protracted and ugly debate over gay equality within the denomination, has a plan to allow pseudo-marriage for queer clergy in the UK. But there’s a catch:
Homosexual priests in the Church of England will be allowed to “marry” their boyfriends under a proposal drawn up by senior bishops, led by Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The decision ensures that gay and lesbian clergy who wish to register relationships under [Britain’s] new “civil partnerships” law — giving them many of the tax and inheritance advantages of married couples — will not lose their licences to be priests.
They will, however, have to give an assurance to their diocesan bishop that they will abstain from sex. The bishops are trying to uphold the church doctrine of forbidding clergy from sex except in a full marriage. They accept, however, that the new law leaves them little choice but to accept the right of gay clergy to have civil partners.
The decision is likely to reopen the row over homosexuality that has split the worldwide Anglican communion. It may also overshadow an international meeting of senior bishops next month designed to heal rifts between liberals and conservatives over the issue.
As one might imagine, the Church of England found itself in a sticky wicket when Britain approved a new law permitting same-sex couples to register in civil partnerships starting Dec. 5 (can you say “British Jim Crow?”). How could denominational leaders respond to the inevitable news that gay clergy would pair off in legal unions? Especially considering how vocal Anglican primates have been in opposition to the US Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop? Especially when they have railed against allowing marriage rites for American and Canadian churches? Especially when England’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement estimates that by 2010, 1,500 gay Anglican priests will take advantage of the new law?
Credit where it is due: As silly as it is to say, in essence, “You can get ‘married,’ but no marital intimacy for you,” at least church leaders are making a grudging effort to give queer clergy something. That’s a breakthrough, in one sense. Of course, they could be covering their asses — the law is the law, after all. And plenty of people are not thrilled by the plan. The proposal has drawn angry criticism — understandably — from both equality supporters and antigay Anglicans.
Still, come on. How are they going to enforce this puppy? Will secret cameras be installed in vicarages? And you know that out of their own sense of decency and fairness, some progressive bishops will allow a number of couples to slide past that “assurance” part. (Can you say British “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?)
The proposal, which has won provisional approval, will go before the denomination’s House of Bishops for a final OK in the near future, perhaps with amendments.
And in the meantime, don’t think for a moment that those wayward progressive Americans and Canadians are off the hook. On June 21, the Anglican Consultative Council will meet in an effort to smooth over the rift over gay rights that still could lead to schism. In other words, it ain’t over yet. Not by a long shot.