More than 500 homosexual couples took part in “gay marriage” ceremonies in Britain last year, according to new figures.
About 300 ceremonies, in which a priest blesses the couple, were conducted for members of the Anglican faith. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, which has produced the figures for the first time, said that half of the ceremonies had taken place in a church.
Martin Reynolds, a spokesman for the movement, said that many of the marriage ceremonies were conducted by clergy, although most kept their identities hidden.
“Clergy, even in these fraught times, continue to offer themselves to us to conduct these services. The number of clerics willing to bless same sex unions has increased over the last year, and many take place in churches, chapels and cathedrals,” he said.
The Church of England opposes homosexual marriages, but does not have a specific position on whether homosexual unions can be blessed.
Karen Sloan and Jacqui Clark, both 32, a lesbian couple from Inverness, took part in an Anglican “wedding” last month in which they exchanged vows, swapped rings, and prayed before a 90-strong congregation.
Miss Clark said: “It was a wonderful day, and we are very happy.” She said that the name of their minister could not be disclosed because of fear of reprisals from his parishioners.
The Rev Neil Richardson, of Holy Cross Church, Greenford, west London, has presided over 12 homosexual blessings and said that there is an increasing demand. “The ceremonies are modelled on the wedding service. They include prayers or hope for the future. I always say to gay couples who want to be blessed that I don’t see it as a wedding, but what they make of it is their business,” he said.
The Ven Dr Paul Gardner, the chairman of the Church of England Evangelical Council, said: “If any such blessing was formalised in church it is against traditional teaching and the law of the Church. General Synod has expressed its view clearly that homosexual ‘genital acts’ are sinful.”
A Church of England spokesman said that the clergy were allowed to pray for and bless homosexual relationships, so long as it was in a privately arranged ceremony.
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