MP urges Church of England clarity on same-sex marriage priests

Gay couple hold hands The first same-sex marriage ceremonies in England and Wales will take place on Saturday

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A Labour MP is to challenge the Church of England to say whether it would defrock a priest for marrying a same-sex partner.

Ben Bradshaw has accused the Church of "trying to have its cake and eat it" by accepting same-sex marriage for its members, but not for its clergy.

The ex-cabinet minister said priests needed to know where they stood.

He will raise the question in the Commons, asking how the Church would discipline any who disobey its ruling.

With the first same-sex marriage ceremonies in England and Wales due to take place on Saturday, Mr Bradshaw said the Church was in a "muddle" over where its own clergy stood.

'Pretty extreme'

The Church has urged priests to support members of the congregation who are in same-sex marriages, but it has ruled that priests themselves must not enter into one.

Ben Bradshaw Ben Bradshaw says it would be "pretty extreme" to sack a priest for entering a same-sex marriage

Mr Bradshaw, who entered into a civil partnership with his long-term partner in 2006, said it would be "pretty extreme" for a priest to be defrocked for flouting the ruling.

"It's a bit of a muddle and I think what we would need - what people want - is some clarity," Mr Bradshaw said.

"What's difficult, particularly for those priests who have said already, publicly, that they would like to marry - or they intend to marry - their long-term partner, I think they need to know where they're going to stand.

"Are they going to be disciplined? Are they going to be sacked?"

The MP, who is a member of Parliament's Ecclesiastical Committee, will raise the question in the Commons on Thursday.

He said he accepted and understood the Church's "desire to move slowly and to make its own rules". But he said clarity was needed.

'Long tradition'

The Church of England's House of Bishops issued guidelines on same-sex marriage last month.

In them, it said the Church was committed "unreservedly" to the pastoral support of homosexual people.

But for priests, "getting married to someone of the same sex would, however, clearly be at variance with the teaching of the Church of England".

It added: "The Church of England has a long tradition of tolerating conscientious dissent and of seeking to avoid drawing lines too firmly, not least when an issue is one where the people of God are seeking to discern the mind of Christ in a fast-changing context.

"Nevertheless, at ordination clergy undertake to 'accept and minister the discipline of this Church, and respect authority duly exercised within it'. We urge all clergy to act consistently with that undertaking."

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