From the URC News Release 9 July 2016
©URC 2016. Used with permission.
This afternoon, Saturday 9 July 2016, the General Assembly of the United Reformed Church (URC) voted in favour of allowing its local churches to conduct and register marriages for same-sex couples. This means that the URC is now the largest UK denomination to freely permit the celebration and registration of marriages of same-sex couple in its churches.
A two-thirds majority was needed to allow the proposal to be confirmed as the denomination’s final decision – Assembly voted in favour of the resolution by 240 votes to 21 votes. United Reformed churches in England and Wales wishing to register their buildings for the marriage of same-sex couples are now able to start that process immediately. (In Scotland the legal framework is rather different, but the effects of the Church’s decision will be broadly similar.)
The process which culminated in today’s vote has been a lengthy one. The General Assembly has considered the proposal twice before – in 2014, and again in a special, single issue Assembly, which met in June 2015. It has long been clear that the denomination cannot express a single view on the issue of same-sex marriage and, at the 2015 Assembly it was ruled that that the decision on whether an individual United Reformed Church congregation can host marriages of same-sex couples lies wholly with each local church. This is the policy that was confirmed today as the Church’s decision.
Speaking of the process and today’s vote, the Revd John Proctor, General Secretary of the URC said: ‘Today the URC has made an important decision – at which some will rejoice and with which others will be uncomfortable. Those of our churches who now wish to offer full marriage services to same-sex couples are free to do just that – and those churches who do not wish to are not compelled to. All are part of this denomination. This has been a sensitive issue for many in our churches. It has been important to take our time over the decision process, and to listen as carefully as we can to one another along the way.’
From URC News 11.7.16
- Guidance for churches in English and Wales wishing to register their buildings for the marriage of same-sex couples will be available on the URC website in the next week. It will be part of the ‘resources library’, under ‘M’ for marriage.
- Guidance for churches and ministers in Scotland will be available from the Synod of Scotland’s office
- Mr Proctor reminded Assembly that the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands have separate legal systems from Scotland, England and Wales and, although their legislation on this matter may be broadly similar to the English and Welsh legislation, he suggested that Assembly might be content to enable Mission Council to handle the legislative responses without needing to revert to General Assembly
- He also suggested that Mission Council consider the ways in which URC ministers could conduct marriages on unregistered premises (such as domestic homes, hospitals and hospices) in extreme circumstances.
- And finally, he explained that URC ministers who do not wish to conduct the weddings of same-sex couples, from either theological or pastoral convictions, may nonetheless not prevent local churches from registering their buildings; that is a matter for Church Meeting. But if the building were registered, the minister would not be obliged to officiate: local churches cannot, and the denomination will not, compel ministers to conduct same-sex marriages against their conscience; a neighbouring minister could be asked by the local church to take the service.