Quakers to perform gay wedding ceremonies

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The Independent Online

A religious denomination today reignited debate on same-sex unions after agreeing to perform marriage ceremonies for gay couples.

The Quaker church, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, already offers religious blessings to couples in civil partnerships.

But today, at its yearly meeting, held at the University of York, the church opted to extend this to same-sex weddings.

Quakers will ask the Government to change the law, which does not recognise gay marriage, to allow Quaker registering officers to register same-sex partnerships in the same way as marriages.

Michael Hutchinson, of Quakers in Britain, said: "Many of our meetings have told us that there are homosexual couples who consider themselves to be married and believe this is as much a testimony of divine grace as a heterosexual marriage.

"They miss the public recognition of this in a religious ceremony."

During this week's meeting, Quakers spoke about their personal experiences of committed relationships, agreeing that "whereas there was a clear, visible path to celebration and recognition for opposite sex couples" the same was not always true for those in same-sex relationships, a minute released by the church said.

It said: "This open sharing of personal experience has moved us and added to our clear sense that, 22 years after the prospect was first raised... we are being led to treat same-sex committed relationships in the same way as opposite-sex marriages, reaffirming our central insight that marriage is the Lord's work and we are but witnesses.

"The question of legal recognition by the state is secondary."

All those present at today's meeting, numbering around 1200, agreed to take steps to revise relevant parts of Quaker faith and practice in order to treat same-sex marriages in the same way as more traditional unions.

After the decision, Martin Ward, clerk of the Quakers yearly meeting, said: "This minute is the result of a long period of consultation and what we call "threshing" in our local meetings, culminating in two gathered sessions of our yearly meeting.

"At these sessions, according to practice, we heard ministry arising out of silent worship which led us to discern the will of God for the Religious Society and record it in this minute."

Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed today's announcement as a "trail-blazing" choice that highlighted issues within other religious organisations.

He said: "The Quakers' decision to open up marriage to same-sex couples, on exactly the same basis as heterosexual couples, is an honourable, courageous, trail-blazing decision."

""It exposes the homophobia of other faiths that refuse to recognise love and commitment between couples of the same sex, and it specifically exposes their denial of religious marriage to same-sex couples."

Mr Tatchell said that if the Government refused to recognise Quaker same-sex marriages, it could provoke confrontation with other religious groups by overriding their authority and independence.

He added: "It would send entirely the wrong signal if Gordon Brown's Government sided with homophobic, discriminatory religious leaders against marriage equality for same-sex couples."

The issue of active homosexuality and the consecration of a gay bishop has divided the worldwide Anglican communion, with the Archbishop of Canterbury suggesting a "two-track" church was a possibility.

In a newspaper interview earlier this month, the Bishop of Rochester, Dr Michael Nazir-Ali, said homosexuals should "repent and be changed".