The Anglican church in Wales will offer special blessings to same-sex married couples after a historic vote welcomed by campaigners for equality.
The move puts the Welsh church at odds with the Church of England, which forbids clergy to bless same-sex marriages. It falls short of allowing same-sex marriages in church, and includes a “conscience clause”, allowing individual clergy to decide whether or not to offer blessings.
But one bishop said he hoped the decision would lead the Welsh church to be “bold enough” to embrace sex-same marriage within five years. After a debate that was at times emotional, Gregory Cameron, bishop of St Asaph, said the decision was a “huge step forward for the church and for us all in Wales”.
Before the vote, Welsh bishops had said the move would be a “step on the way towards repentance of a history in the church which has demonised and persecuted gay and lesbian people”.
The church had forced lesbian and gay people “into fear, dishonesty and sometimes even hypocrisy, and which has precluded them from living publicly and honestly lives of committed partnership”, they said.
The blessing of same-sex register-office marriages would be “experimental” for a five-year period under the bill passed by a two-thirds majority at a meeting of the Church in Wales’s governing body in Newport.
The experimental period was normal practice with new liturgy, Cameron said. “I think it’s the hope of the bishops that within those five years, we’ll be able to come to a consensus on [same-sex] marriage. And when it comes to deciding whether to continue with the blessing service, perhaps the church will be in a position to be bold enough to take a further step on gay and lesbian inclusion.”
He added: “I’m aware that this is a decision that many in the church will find hard. I believe it’s the right decision, and it will give joy and hope to many LGBT+ people.”
Jayne Ozanne, a prominent campaigner for LGBT+ equality in the C of E, said she was thrilled by the vote, adding: “I yearn for the day when the Church of England has the courage to make the same step.
“If we want all in our care to flourish and thrive, and for our churches to grow, we must learn to embrace diversity and be known as people who practise what we preach. Love is love, and where this is found between two adults it is something that should be celebrated and blessed.”
The C of E does not recognise same-sex marriages, forbids clergy to bless same-sex unions and insists gay and lesbian clergy must be celibate. The Scottish Episcopal church voted to allow same-sex couples to marry in church in 2017.
In June, the Methodist church overwhelmingly supported a proposal to allow same-sex marriages, with the first weddings expected in chapels this autumn.
Other Christian denominations in the UK that permit same-sex marriages include the Quakers in Britain, the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches, and the United Reformed Church.