Relationships have changed over time

EXPECTATIONS The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rev Christopher Foster, talks about relationships
EXPECTATIONS The Bishop of Portsmouth, Rev Christopher Foster, talks about relationships
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At this time of the year, the shops are full of cards and gifts for the one you love. The way we express our love in public has changed hugely in the course of my lifetime, and the expectations placed upon relationships have changed too.

We’ve gone from an expectation that marriages would last for life, and stigma attached to those whose marriage failed, to an acceptance of couples who live together without choosing to get married, and an open recognition that perhaps as many as 40 per cent of marriages that do take place will end in divorce.

While the shops capitalise on our longing for the perfect relationship, many of us know the fragility of real relationships and the pain of relationship breakdown.

Times have changed too over same-sex relationships. It’s hard to believe that only 50 years ago gay people lived in fear of arrest. People in same-sex relationships have made an extraordinary transition from living secretive lives, to being able to celebrate their unions and their commitments to one another in public.

I write this knowing that the church has been far from the forefront of this change. I am often asked about my personal stance on gay marriage, and my response is that my stance on same-sex relationships is identical to my stance on heterosexual relationships. I celebrate with couples whose relationships are healthy and mutually life-giving but I also support couples who are struggling in their relationships, whatever the gender of the individuals.

My legal reality at the moment, and the legal reality of all Church of England priests, is that we are currently only permitted by law to conduct the weddings of heterosexual couples. There is still a divergence of views within the church as to whether this should change.

Not all priests would welcome a change because they feel that this would go against their understanding of scripture. Although I am not allowed to conduct the weddings of same-sex couples, I am glad to be able to support friends in same- sex relationships in other ways – perhaps by saying a prayer after a legal ceremony has taken place, by attending their wedding in a register office or other venue, perhaps by offering pastoral support.

Happy Valentine’s Day. With romance in the air, if you are in love or in a stable and happy relationship, I rejoice with you. If you have lost someone you love, or if you are in a relationship that you find challenging or painful, then you are in my prayers at this time.