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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 15:02 GMT 16:02 UK
Secret blessings for homosexuals
Same-sex marriages are a contentious issue
Blessings are being carried out behind closed doors
Anglican clergy are performing "unofficial" marriage-style services for gay and lesbian couples at churches across the West Midlands.

Although homosexual couples cannot legally marry, the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement receives between 40 and 50 requests a year for "marriage blessings".

There are more than 500 requests a year from across the country.

But private blessings have to be conducted behind closed church doors by sympathetic clergy.

'Courageous clergy'

Richard Kirker, general secretary of the Movement, told BBC Radio WM: "The church hierarchy officially turns a blind eye to it but more worryingly, in some cases, they take steps to try and discourage clergy from participating.

My own feelings are that we should treat gay and lesbian couples the same as heterosexual couples

The Very Reverend Gordon Mursell

"It is bold, prophetic and courageous clergy who believe that it is their duty who are prepared to offer services to us.

"No regulation law or threats prohibit them."

Priests who carry out the blessings behind closed doors are not willing to openly discuss the matter for fear of incurring the wrath of the church establishment.

The issue of homosexuality within the church has been a controversial one in recent years.

At the Lambeth conference in 1998, opinion between senior clergy was bitterly divided.

After much disagreement, the House of Bishops came out with an official line decreeing that homosexuality within the context of a loving relationship among lay people was not in itself a sin.

But practising homosexuality was not permitted among the clergy.

Committed couples

The Very Reverend Gordon Mursell, Provost of St Philip Cathedral in Birmingham, told BBC Radio WM that he did not have a problem with the blessings.

He added: "My own feelings are that we should treat gay and lesbian couples the same as heterosexual couples.

"If a couple wanted to commit themselves to each other, I would not have a problem with that although I would not call it marriage."

But he added that he would want to talk it over with the church first: "I would do my best to try and persuade them to do it if I thought it was a good thing.

"If they were not willing, I would not do it."

'Very liberal'

Retired minister Tony Crowe has carried out 31 blessings for gay and lesbian couples since 1978.

Rev Crowe, who started his career in Coventry, said: "At first they were carried out in secret but my church council was very liberal and accepted what I was doing.

"It was hard at first and I was beaten up when people found out.

"Things have changed but the church still has still got to go a long way to accept gay relationships."

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, has insisted the Church of England will not sanction gay marriages.

Last month he told the BBC that the Church should not "muddy the waters" over the nature of marriage.

See also:

14 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Richard and Judy screen gay wedding
01 Dec 00 | Europe
Germany approves 'gay marriage'
18 Sep 00 | UK
Gay marriage: In the pink
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