The Church of England has voted in favour of extending the same pension benefits of married clergy to clergy in homosexual civil partnerships.
The motion, passed yesterday, will provide pension benefits for surviving civil partners of deceased gay clergy on the same basis as surviving spouses.
Prior to the vote, surviving civil partners of deceased gay clergy could claim pension benefits, but only back to 2005 when the Civil Partnership Act was introduced.
But now the Synod has voted to extend their pension benefits by offering surviving civil partners a pension based on all of their deceased partner’s pensionable service, equating them with widows and widowers.
The change means the Church of England will go beyond the requirements of the Civil Partnership Act 2004.
One Synod member, who asked to remain anonymous, said conservative Synod members had deliberately withheld from taking to the floor to speak against the motion for fear of reprisals.
“They didn’t dare to. There would have been screams of homophobia if anyone had dared oppose it,” he said.
But Revd Mark Bratton, who put forward the motion, argued: “On what basis does the Church believe it just to treat a civil partner of long-standing as inferior in pension provision to a spouse who may have been married to a scheme member for only a very short time?”
“It is rationally indefensible to refuse a change to the clergy pension scheme to benefit a civil partner of long-standing solely on the grounds of status”, he added.
At present the Church of England allows clergy to be in civil partnerships as long as they are celibate.
Around 200 priests have reportedly entered civil partnerships since the 2004 Act.
Critics are concerned the move could deepen divisions in the Church over homosexuality.
In January when the motion was first announced, Revd Rod Thomas, Chairman of Reform, an evangelical group within the Church of England, expressed concern.
He said: “This proposal will be seen as a further loosening of the Church’s position on gay partnerships.”
“Given the current divisions in the Anglican Communion, the Church of England should avoid doing anything that’s likely to exacerbate these difficulties.”
The private members’ motion says: “That this Synod request the Archbishops’ Council and the Church of England Pensions Board to bring forward changes to the rules governing the clergy pension scheme in order to go beyond the requirements of the Civil Partnership Act 2004 and provide for pension benefits to be paid to the surviving civil partners of deceased clergy on the same basis as they are currently paid to surviving spouses.”