Sexual activity is only acceptable within the marriage of a man and a woman — so says a new document issued by the Church of England.
That’s not a new stance for the church, which is considered the mother church of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the much more liberal U.S. Episcopal Church is a member. But the Church of England is putting out the guidance because the British government has made civil partnerships, which are not quite equal to marriage, available to heterosexual couples, The Guardian reports.
The Church of England does not perform same-sex marriages; the Episcopal Church does — despite its relationship with the Church of England, it remains free to set certain policies. But the C of E does not consider civil partnerships the same as marriage, the document, issued this week, makes clear. It says that any couple in a civil partnership, same-sex or opposite, should not have sex.
Civil partnerships became available to same-sex couples in the United Kingdom in 2005. Three parts of the U.K. — England, Wales, and Scotland — extended equal marriage rights to same-sex couples in 2014, and Northern Ireland has finally followed, with marriage equality going into effect this year. After the U.K.’s Supreme Court ruled that heterosexual couples should have equal access to civil partnerships, Parliament passed a bill to that effect, and the first mixed-sex civil partnerships were registered last month. Some couples may prefer civil partnerships to marriage because of the patriarchal or religious baggage of marriage.
“It has always been the position of the Church of England that marriage is a creation ordinance, a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace. Marriage, defined as a faithful, committed, permanent and legally sanctioned relationship between a man and a woman making a public commitment to each other, is central to the stability and health of human society,” the new document reads. The legalization of marriage for same-sex couples has not changed this position, nor has the availability of civil partnerships for same-sex or opposite-sex couples, the church says.
LGBTQ activists and allies objected to the announcement. “I’m sadly unsurprised by the content of this statement, but I’m deeply saddened by its tone,” Jayne Ozanne, a lesbian who’s a member of the church’s ruling body, the General Synod, told The Guardian.
The document “shows little evidence of the ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ that we have been promised,” she added. “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.”
Linda Woodhead, a professor in the department of politics, philosophy, and religion at Lancaster University, told the publication, “The C of E is unable to get over its fixation on homosexuality, which is driving the national church into a position more like a fundamentalist sect and does not speak to the vast majority of younger people today.”