Gay rights campaigners protested outside the Church of England’s General Synod in London on Wednesday as Anglican bishops from around the world prepared to vote on a report ruling out accepting gay marriage.
The “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations” report, released on January 27, calls for the traditional teaching that marriage is a lifelong union between a man and a woman to be upheld.
The report also reaffirms the view that the clergy must remain celibate if in a same-sex relationship and that they should not be allowed to bless same-sex marriages.
It does however, recommend “a fresh tone and culture of welcome and support” for the LGBT community.
The issue has long strained ties within the estimated 85-million-strong Anglican Communion, which includes more liberal members such as the United States and Britain, and conservatives such as Nigeria and Kenya.
The Synod, the Church of England’s legislative body, is being asked to “take note” of the report.
But the 50 protesters, who came carrying placards reading “LGBT equality for people and priests” and “Synod should reject bigot’s report,” want the bishops not to acknowledge the report, saying the concessions offered are not enough.
“A change in tone is such a superficial proposal,” Colin Coward, a minister and director of Changing Attitude told AFP.
“Christ talked about a God of infinite, unconditional love. I don’t think the Church — this is a shocking thing to say — really understands what that is,” he said.
Tracey Byrne, chief executive of the One Body One Faith charity said: “I think what we’re looking for is not equal marriage at this stage, but just some really clear sign that the Church is going to bless and recognise our relationships in a formal way.”
Fourteen retired bishops have also criticised the report, penning a letter earlier this week saying the call for a change of tone “does not carry conviction.”
“Our perception is that while the pain of LGBT people is spoken about in your report, we do not hear its authentic voice,” the letter said.
The current report is seen as far more conservative than a previous set of proposals in 2013 that had argued that clergy should be allowed to bless same-sex marriages and welcomed the presence and ministry of LGBT people both lay and ordained.
The Anglican church last year suspended the Episcopal Church, its US branch, for three years after it approved ceremonies for same-sex marriages.
Declining church attendance in more liberal countries has put pressure on Anglican leaders to be more accommodating on issues such as same-sex marriage, but that has put them at loggerheads with conservatives.
Homosexuality is either illegal or strongly taboo in several countries with large Anglican congregations.
In 2014, Welby said it would be “catastrophic” if the Church of England, mother church of the Anglican Communion, accepted gay marriage, arguing that the association could lead to the slaughter of Christians in countries such as Pakistan, South Sudan and Nigeria.