Church of England Under Pressure After Diocese Votes to Bless Same-Sex Unions

(PHOTO: WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/HANS MUSIL)The Canterbury Cathedral is the seat of the Cathedral of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, the Primate of All England and religious leader of the Church of England.

The diocese of Hereford in the United Kingdom has voted to back services and prayers to bless same-sex unions, putting pressure on the Church of England to abandon its institutional opposition to same-sex marriage.

In this week's vote, the governing synod of the diocese, which has over 400 church buildings, 356 parishes and 84 schools and academies, called on the country's Anglican leaders to create a set of formal services and prayers to bless those who have had a same-sex marriage or civil partnership, The Times reported.

"Given that the Church of England in part defines its doctrine through its authorized liturgies [or services], even if this service did not amount to a change in marriage, it would increase pressure toward such a change," the Hereford Bishop's Council told synod members before the vote.

The proposal will now be put to the General Synod, which will meet in February.

With 3.9 percent of the local population attending services at least once a month in churches under the diocese, it has the highest proportion of worshippers — almost double the national average of 2 percent.

However, a Church of England spokesman was quoted as saying that "[Hereford] diocesan synod's decision does not change the teaching or practice of the Church of England, whether in Hereford or anywhere else in the church."

The Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Anglican communion, Justin Welby, admitted earlier this month that he's unable to answer whether gay sex is sinful or not, and is struggling with the question.

"You know very well that is a question I can't give a straight answer to," Welby told GQ magazine. "Sorry, badly phrased there. I should have thought that one through."

He explained, "Because I don't do blanket condemnation and I haven't got a good answer to the question. I'll be really honest about that. I know I haven't got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships."

Recently, St. John's Church in Edinburgh hosted a gay wedding, months after the Scottish Church overturned the Anglican canon law that states marriage is between a man and a woman, and a year after the U.S. Episcopal Church backed same-sex marriage.

In July, a group of conservative Anglicans wrote a letter on the growing divide in the Church of England on LGBT issues, warning of a coming rebellion in the face of what they called the "capitulation to secular values."

"There are now effectively two expressions of Anglicanism in this country. One has capitulated to secular values, and one continues to hold the faith 'once delivered to the saints,'" read the letter, which was published by the Daily Telegraph.

The Rev. Gavin Ashenden, the former chaplain to the Queen, said at the time that traditional views on LGBT issues are being marginalized.