Guest editorial by Savitri Hensman
from Modern Believing Vol 55:2

A Church of England working party has recommended that clergy be free to hold services for same-sex couples in committed  relationships.

The report of the House of Bishops Working Group on human  sexuality, chaired by Sir Joseph Pilling, notes theological arguments both for  and against celebrating same-sex partnerships, urges that the church be  welcoming towards gay and lesbian people and calls for a two-year consultation  on the proposals.

The report is cautious in its approach and has disappointed  some of those seeking full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans church  members. Indeed gender identity and bisexuality are only fleetingly discussed,  along with the experience of people who are intersex. Nevertheless the Pilling  report does signal greater openness on sexuality and gender, and has been  strongly criticised by groups which insist that physically intimate  partnerships between couples of the same sex are always wrong, whatever  qualities of love and faithfulness such relationships may reflect.

In many other churches too, Anglican and otherwise, similar  discussions have been taking place. They have sometimes been accompanied by  movement in wider society towards marriage equality. Meanwhile in other parts  of the world, hostility to LGBT people has intensified and criminal penalties  are in place. Shifting attitudes to gender-roles in church and society form  part of the backdrop to sometimes heated debate on sexuality and gender  identity.

This issue of Modern Believing focuses on same-sex  partnerships and marriage, while addressing wider questions about the  circumstances in which sexual relationships can be emotionally and spiritually  beneficial. It is hoped that it will be of wide interest, and that the articles  will stimulate thought and discussion even among readers who do not agree with  all the conclusions.

In the opening paper, I offer an overview of how thinking  about same-sex partnerships and marriage in the Church of England and other  churches has developed over the past century, within a wider social context.

Eugene F Rogers examines relevant biblical passages and the  concept of marriage as an ascetic practice for same-sex and well as  opposite-sex couples, through which ‘life with another can prepare us for life  in Trinity’.

The current state of scientific knowledge about sexual  orientation is summarised by David G Myers.

The late Kenneth Ingram was one of the first Anglican  theologians to argue for a consistent approach to opposite-sex and same-sex partnerships,  and his writings on Christianity and sexual ethics seventy years ago are  revisited.

Charlotte Methuen’s examination of the history of Christian  thinking about marriage points out that it has not been a static institution  and examines the implications of extending the definition to include same-sex  couples. Love can be a ‘many gendered thing’, suggests Christina Beardsley,  looking at the realities of transsexual and transgender people’s lives and  questioning inflexible concepts of differences between men and women.

Feelings of attraction, falling in love and formation of long-term partnerships are extremely common aspects of human experience; and, while same-sex relationships were at one time shrouded in secrecy and  still are in some parts of the world, these are harder to ignore than was previously the case. In the Church of England, other churches and wider  society, reflection on the significance of sexuality, proper place for sexual  intimacy and living with difference will, no doubt, continue in future years.

Savitri Hensman was born in Sri Lanka and lives in London. She is a writer, activist, Ekklesia associate and works in the voluntary sector, in equalities, health and social care.