The Archbishop of Wales has publicly called on Anglicans to support gay civil marriages arguing that the church’s record on equality has made homosexual men and women often feel “unwanted, unloved and sinful”.
Dr Barry Morgan made his comments during an impassioned plea for Anglicans to be more tolerant towards homosexuals during a meeting of the church’s governing body in Llandudno.
He is one of just a handful of senior Anglican clergymen to publicly come out in favour of extending civil marriage rights. Most bishops who have spoken publicly since the government began consultations on gay marriage have voiced vehement opposition to the plans.
Recognising that he was “entering minefield” by bringing up the subject Dr Morgan said: “We have to acknowledge that the record of the church in its dealings with same sex issues has not been good."
He added: "The question then as now is, will the church protect and support pastorally, faithful, stable, lifelong relationships of whatever kind in order to encourage human values such as love and fidelity and recognise the need in Christian people for some public religious support?”
The 64-year-old bishop took over as head of the church in Wales when his predecessor Rowan Williams was promoted to Archbishop of Canterbury. He has long been known as a stalwart liberal within the upper echelons of the church and a strong supporter of allowing women clergy to become bishops.
Other senior church figures who have come out in favour of gay marriage include Nick Holtam, the Bishop of Salisbury, and the former Bishop of Oxford, Lord Harries.
The bulk of Dr Morgan’s speech centred around how the church should not be afraid to talk about and debate the competing theological arguments surrounding gay marriage, even though the current government proposals only effect civil marriages and will not force religious organisations to conduct weddings for same sex couples.
However he called on his church to support the government’s desire to allow gay men and women to marry in a civil environment. "If the legislation to allow civil marriage is passed, I cannot see how we as a church, will be able to ignore the legality of the status of such partnerships and we ought not to want to do so,” he said.
He painted a damning portrait of what kind of welcome gay men and women say they receive from the church.
“Gays and lesbians claim they are still treated as second-class citizens, tolerated at best and vilified at worst,” he said. “Very often homosexuality is talked about as if real people were not involved and gays and lesbians complain of being talked about rather than talked to in Church.”
He added: “The real question is, how do we hold together faithfulness to scripture and tradition with the wider New Testament call to love our neighbour? If the moral aim of the gospel is to encourage love of neighbours, how can that happen when people are made to feel unwanted, unloved, and sinful? How is the gospel good news for homosexuals?”
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which follows a theological line dictated by the Vatican, the Church of England is filled with Bishops who hold a variety of views on controversial topics such as homosexuality and the consecration of women bishops. When Rowan Williams was Archbishop of Wales he was regarded as a liberal who backed greater equality for gay men and women. However during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury, a post he will retire from later this year, he became increasingly aligned with conservatives backing down over the appointment of Britain’s first openly gay bishops and supporting demands for opt out clauses for dioceses that refused to be served by a female bishops.