SAME-SEX couples could have their marriage blessed by the Church following a three-day vote starting Monday, September 6.

A bill to authorise a service of blessing will be considered on the first of a three-day meeting in Newport.

If passed, the Church will still not marry same-sex couples, they will only receive a blessing.

Former Dean of St Albans the Very Reverend Jeffrey John supported the change, but described it as a “halfway house” that did not go far enough.

The Evangelical Fellowship opposed the move, saying it did not uphold the “standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman”.

It proposes blessings to be available after an official marriage or civil partnership at a register office, but will be up to individual clergy to decide whether or not they wish to lead it.

The Church said it recognised it had “demonised and persecuted” gay and lesbian people in the past.

It said that had forced them “into fear, dishonesty and sometimes even hypocrisy, and which has precluded them from living public and honest lives of committed partnership”.

Dr John, originally from Tonyrefail, said there remained a big difference between the official stance of the Church and the opinion of its congregation.

“Officially the church still says marriage is to be between a man and wife, but it is obvious that the views of church members have changed rapidly in recent years – especially after the government has legalised same-sex marriage,” he said.

“The most important thing about the blessing service is its theological meaning. The blessing by the Church defines a gay relationship as a gift from God rather than a sin.”

Dr John accused the Church of homophobia in 2017 when he was rejected for the position of Bishop of Llandaff.

He said he had been told appointing him would be difficult because he was in a civil partnership, although celibate in line with Church teaching.

In 2003, Dr John was nominated as Bishop of Reading, but was asked to withdraw by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

“The Anglican Church in Scotland has already voted to go all the way – they marry gay couples without a difference,” he said.

“In Wales, only a blessing will be available, so the inequality between gay couples and straight couples will remain.”

Church in Wales

The Reverend Josh Maynard, of Angle Peninsula Churches in Pembrokeshire, sits on the Church’s governing body but is unable to attend the meeting over the next three days.

Were he able to attend, Rev Maynard would have voted against the proposals.

“I’m quite anxious about it,” he said. “It is a significant vote for the Church in Wales, it will be the first major change in the teaching of the Church in Wales.”

However, he feared it could lead to a split in the Church.

“It is a serious decision that will likely lead to fractures at best if not a complete split,” he said.

He worried there will be hurt on both sides “whichever way it goes”.

“What’s important is that those on both sides of the debate engage with and listen to what is being said.”

He said voting against the proposals did not make people homophobic.

“If you are LGBT you are welcome in any of my churches,” he said.

The Church of England does not currently recognise same-sex marriages, it forbids clergy to bless same-sex unions, and only allows celibate gay and lesbian clergy to minister.

The Scottish Episcopal Church voted to allow gay couples to marry in church in 2017, making it the first major Christian church in the UK to allow same-sex marriages.

However, the Church of Scotland, it does not currently allow gay marriage according to their website.

The first same-sex religious wedding in Northern Ireland took place in December after changes in the law were introduced by the Northern Ireland Office.

The Evangelical Fellowship in the Church in Wales said it did not support the bill on the basis of a declaration it made in 2018.

At its annual general meeting that year, it said: “We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family.

“We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.”

The Reverend Enid Morgan, one of the first women to be ordained as a priest in Wales, said the move would be a significant step for gay Christians.

“These are people who love each other and want God’s blessing and the recognition of the Church that their relationship is a valuable human relationship,” she said.

“Everyone will not be happy, but people 20 years ago were unhappy to ordain women. People 20 years before that had terrible concerns about divorce.”

The bill will be voted on in all three orders of the governing body – the bishops, the clergy and the laity – and will require a two-thirds majority in each order to be passed.