First gay married minister attacks Church of England same-sex marriage blessing

This week, the governing body of the Church of England will meet for General Synod, where bishops and other clergy will debate the Anglican Church’s position on same-sex marriage.

There will be a vote at the end of the week, but if it follows a leaked recommendation from the bishops, the C of E will likely allow same-sex marriages to be ordained in the church, but maintain the ban on same-sex marriages within the church.

The proposal is “undoubtedly incoherent,” said Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain, a C of E chaplain of Lady Margaret Hall at the University of Oxford.

On the one hand, they will bless same-sex marriages in the church, “but at the same time they also say that the doctrine of the Church of England does not change. And the Church of England’s doctrine is that marriage is for one man and one woman, and sex outside of marriage is a sin,” explains Foreshew-Cain.

“That is incoherent. That just doesn’t make theological sense,” he says.

Frankly, I was extremely naive

The UK legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, but the C of E institution has an exception to the law due to its state-given ability to govern itself. The exception to British law is close to Foreshew-Cain’s heart. In 2014, he married his longtime partner Stephen. The couple had been openly dating for the past 14 years, and Foreshew-Cain didn’t expect the new legal marriage to be a problem.

“Honestly, I was extremely naive,” he says. The couple would receive invitations to dinner with his boss, the Archdeacon. “We were accepted as a couple within the church, even though we were not in a civil partnership and were, I suppose, living in a sense of sin.”

What Foreshew-Cain didn’t realize at the time was that he was the first C of E minister in a same-sex marriage. Marital status and sexuality are protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010 in the UK. But the C of E exception meant there would be no repercussions if Foreshew-Cain experienced homophobic acts after his marriage.

“My inbox was full of abuse. Fellow clerics would refuse to worship with me. People said insulting and unpleasant things to my face about my faith, my ministry, my relationship and my sexuality,” he recalled. Yet the official line of the Church was that it was not a homophobic abuse, but a legitimate theological expression of their point of view. “While elsewhere in the UK, if people said things to me, I could have them arrested,” says Foreshew-Cain.

Foreshew-Cain was blacklisted from new parishes after he left his position in London. Fortunately for him, Oxford University parishes are independent educational charities and the C of E could not interfere in the recruitment process. The C of E asked that Foreshew-Cain’s name be removed from the application list, but Oxford refused. He was accepted into Lady Margaret Hall College in 2019 and has been a pastor there ever since.

It’s not just the impact on his own career that frustrates Foreshew-Cain about the church’s inertia on homophobia, his concern extends primarily to the well-being of LGBTQ+ church members.

“If you are part of a community where you hear sermons that say homosexuality is wrong and immoral and you explore your own sexuality, that message will have a very disturbing effect on your mental health,” he says.

An example of the damage the church’s institutional homophobia can do is Lizzie Lowe, who committed suicide at the age of 14 for fear that the church would not accept her as a lesbian. She’s not the only one Foreshew-Cain knows has made a similar decision.

It says we’re sorry for doing what we’re doing, but we’ll keep doing it anyway.

This is the danger for people of the church who do not take homophobia seriously. Last month, the C of E apologized for how LGBTQ+ people have been excluded from the church.

“We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is completely wrong,” the bishops’ open letter reads. “The occasions on which you have received hostile and homophobic responses in our churches are shameful and for that we are sorry.”

It’s a hollow apology, as far as Foreshew-Cain is concerned. “They apologize for rejecting and excluding us while at the same time rejecting and excluding us, saying they will not accept our relationships as equal to those of heterosexuals.”

Unless the C of E is willing to fully embrace a change in its stance on same-sex marriage, the apology is void. “It says we’re sorry for doing what we’re doing, but we’re going to keep doing it anyway. That’s the language of an abuser,” he says.

Philip Toscano/AP

The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Reverend Justin Welby, has said he would rather see the C of E lose its special status than separate over same-sex marriage. —Philip Toscano/AP

As it stands, the decision to ordain gay marriages, but not allow them, seems to have upset everyone. For progressives it is not good enough and for conservatives it gives too much ground. In the end, the decision is probably heavily influenced by the C of E’s growing memberships in Africa where allowing same-sex marriage could be divisive.

Foreshew-Cain is concerned that accepting the bishops’ recommendation will limit future moves to fully allow same-sex marriage. A similar recommendation was once suggested in the Scottish Episcopal Church. Scotland’s Equal Marriage Campaign rejected that idea and had it voted down with the Conservatives.

When considering why they took that approach, Foreshew-Cain explains; “We want a marriage, we don’t want a blessing and being treated like second class.” The campaign worked in Scotland. The Scottish Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriage in 2017.

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