Bishop restates gay marriage is an endorsement of the institution of marriage and "a matter of justice".
The Bishop of Salisbury writes today that "The possibility of 'gay marriage' does not detract from heterosexual marriage unless we think that homosexuality is a choice rather than the given identity of a minority of people. Indeed the development of marriage for same sex couples is a very strong endorsement of the institution of marriage."
In a letter delivered to Lord Alli at the House of Lords, Bishop Holtam believes that civil partnerships have been a natural precursor of gay marriage being recognised in law: “Open recognition and public support have increased in civil partnerships those very qualities of life for which marriage itself is so highly celebrated. It is not surprising this now needs recognition in law."
Replying to a letter from Lord Alli of Norbury who requested that Bishop Holtam clarify his position on the issue as a member of the House of Bishops for members of the Upper House, Bishop Holtam stresses that this issue is about justice: “In the current debates it is striking that within the Anglican Communion one of the strongest supporters of same sex marriage is Archbishop Desmond Tutu. From his experience of the racism of Apartheid he sees same sex marriage as primarily a matter of justice.”
Bishop Holtam states: “there are a variety of views within the Church of England where we are experiencing rapid change similar to that in the wider society. This is complex to express, partly because there are those who see this issue as fundamental to the structure of Christian faith.”
In his letter the Bishop of Salisbury also observes that the church has adapted its approach to marriage in light of social change including the widespread availability of contraceptives so that couples may choose to have children; the acceptance of divorce and possibility of marriage in church after divorce so that not all marriages are lifelong, and the acceptance of couples living together before marriage by a Church that still teaches sexual relationships are properly confined to marriage.
The Bishop then explains to Lord Alli that biblical texts never change but sometimes the interpretation of them develops: “ Christian morality comes from the mix of Bible, Christian tradition and our reasoned experience. Sometimes Christians have had to rethink the priorities of the Gospel in the light of experience. For example, before Wilberforce, Christians saw slavery as Biblical and part of the God-given ordering of creation. Similarly in South Africa the Dutch Reformed Church supported Apartheid because it was Biblical and part of the God-given order of creation. No one now supports either slavery or Apartheid.”
Bishop Holtam is the only serving diocesan bishop among a number of retired and suffragan bishops in the Church of England who have given their support to gay marriage. Here is the full text of the Letter to Lord Alli sent today by the Bishop of Salisbury.
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