Civil partnerships should be no more than “sexually abstinent friendships”, the Church of England has said, declaring that sex is proper only within heterosexual marriage and anything else falls short of “God’s purposes for human beings”.
Bishops issued pastoral guidance to clergy after a recent change in UK law allowed straight couples to tie the knot in a civil ceremony instead of a traditional marriage following a lengthy legal battle.
It concludes: “With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged.
“For Christians, marriage, that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows, remains the proper context for sexual activity.
“In its approach to civil partnerships the Church seeks to uphold that standard, to affirm the value of committed, sexually abstinent friendships and to minister sensitively and pastorally to those Christians who conscientiously decide to order their lives differently.”
Religious leaders of the Anglican church issued the guidance after campaigners won a Supreme Court bid in 2018 after arguing denying a mixed-sex couple a civil partnership was discriminatory.
Since New Year’s Eve, heterosexual couples have been able to opt for the civil option over a traditional marriage.
The CofE allows clergy to be in same-sex civil partnerships provided they are sexually abstinent.
The statement titled Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples. A pastoral statement from the House of Bishops of the Church of England, adds: “The Church should not collude with the present assumptions of society that all close relationships necessarily include sexual activity.
“The House of Bishops considers it would be a matter of social injustice to exclude from ministry those who are faithful to the teaching of the Church, and who decide to register a civil partnership.”
The church has for decades grappled with how it addresses LGBT rights as the views of society become more liberal.
It is currently carrying out a “major study” on human sexuality called Living in Love and Faith, which is due to be published later this year.
It is said the project will “inform further deliberations in the House of Bishops”.
LGBT campaigner Jayne Ozanne, a member of the CofE’s General Synod ruling body, criticised the tone and content of the guidance.
She wrote on Twitter: “I’m sadly unsurprised by the content of this statement but I’m deeply saddened by its tone.
“It will appear far from ‘pastoral’ to those it discusses & shows little evidence of the ‘radical new Christian inclusion’ that we have been promised.”
After one social media user asked why there was “such an emphasis on sexual intercourse”, Ms Ozanne, who describes herself as a “gay evangelical Christian” replied: “It seems to be the one thing these guys are obsessed by.”
She added: “For most of us it’s about love and commitment and faithfulness.”
The Civil Partnership Act was introduced in 2005, allowing gay couples legal rights regarding property, inheritance and tax entitlement.
Same- sex marriage was legalised in 2013.