Gay clergy in call for greater inclusion in Church of England

More than a dozen clergy in the Church of England have married their gay partners, a direct defiance of church rulings and a decision made two years ago by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The 14 gay and lesbian clergy, along with other homosexual members of the laity, have written a letter to the Sunday Times calling for the College of Bishops to respect the "diversity" of beliefs within the church.

Equality campaigners also claim that 11 serving bishops are gay, a number which includes the Bishop of Grantham Nicholas Chamberlain, who this week became the first in the Church of England (CoE) to publicly reveal he is in a same-sex relationship.

The church forbids marriage between same-sex partners, and will not carry out gay marriage services for the public.

But in a letter to the College of Bishops, the group of married gay clergy and lay members called for individual parishes to have the freedom to choose whether to celebrate same-sex marriages.

It said: "We encourage you to be bold ... to what you know to be increasingly the direction of travel, not just in our church but in many churches in this country."

And in their letter to the newspaper they called on the college to "move away from the harm and hurt that has so often been done in the name of the church".

They wrote: "We will be praying for the College of Bishops as it meets this month. We appreciate the time may not yet be right for a change in the church's official understanding of marriage, but it is time to respect that a diversity of theology within the church now exists and many in our parishes have already made the move."

"We hope for an outcome that will enable those who wish to do so to celebrate publicly where we see God at work in the lives of our congregations without fear and in openness."

The signatories, who include Reverend Andrew Foreshew-Cain, the first working CoE vicar to marry his same-sex partner in June 2014, called on the college to find a way forward that offers "greater inclusion", saying: "We will always want to see the full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the church."

Pressure group Changing Attitude, which campaigns to change the Anglican approach to sexuality, said the church was a long way from acceptance over same-sex marriage.

Founder Reverend Colin Coward said there was a problem for bishops who are gay and have partners.

He told the Sunday Times: "To my knowledge, there are at least 10 other bishops in the church who are gay, many of whom are in some kind of relationship."

Mr Chamberlain revealed that he is in a long-term, celibate relationship with his male partner to the Guardian newspaper on Friday after an unnamed Sunday paper reportedly threatened to publish a story about his sexuality.

Most Rev Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said Mr Chamberlain's sexuality is "completely irrelevant", adding: "I am and have been fully aware of Bishop Nick's long-term, committed relationship.

"His appointment as Bishop of Grantham was made on the basis of his skills and calling to serve the church in the diocese of Lincoln. He lives within the bishops' guidelines and his sexuality is completely irrelevant to his office."