(Photo: REUTERS/Luke MacGregor)
Same-sex marriage becomes legal in England and Wales on Saturday and while the Church of England has accepted that new reality, it still maintains guidelines for its clergy against marrying gay and lesbian couples.
"I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being," Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told The Guardian on Thursday.
Queen Elizabeth II officially approved the gay marriage law in July 2013, after the bill passed the parliament. The Anglican Communion had spoken out against the bill, arguing that changing the definition of marriage will not be good for society.
In February, the House of Bishops of the Church of England issued a statement on same-sex marriage, acknowledging that not everyone in the church agrees on how to handle the controversial issue.
"However we are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged," the bishops wrote.
"The introduction of same-sex marriage in our country is a new reality and has consequences for the life and discipline of the Church of England. We seek to model a distinctive and generous witness to Jesus Christ in our pastoral guidance to the Church at this time which is set out in the Appendix to this letter."
While committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual persons, the Church of England will not be allowing the blessing of same-sex unions.
"When the Act comes into force in March it will continue not to be legally possible for two persons of the same sex to marry according to the rites of the Church of England. In addition the Act makes clear that any rights and duties which currently exist in relation to being married in Church of England churches do not extend to same-sex couples," the House of Bishops stated.
In another report in November 2013, the Church of England announced that it would "repent" for its previous homophobia, but argued that traditional teachings on marriage are not homophobic.
"Whether someone is married, single or in a civil partnership should have no bearing on the nature of the assurances sought from them that they intend to order their lives consistently with the teaching of the Church on sexual conduct," the report stated.
It also directly outlined the church's official stance on sexual relationships, stating that "sexual intercourse, as an expression of faithful intimacy, properly belongs within marriage exclusively," and maintained that marriage is a union between a man and a woman.