LONDON — On the eve of a divisive vote in Parliament on the legalization of same-sex marriage, Justin Welby, the former bishop of Durham, on Monday took over formally as the 105th archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, saying he shares the Church of England’s opposition to marriage among people of the same gender.
Welby, 57, was confirmed in his new post at a ceremony here at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral attended by other senior bishops of the church. He is to be enthroned next month at a ceremony in Canterbury, replacing the Most Rev. Rowan Williams who held the position for 10 years.
In an interview broadcast on the BBC after his inauguration the new archbishop said he was not on a “collision course” with the government. But he endorsed the traditional view that while the church has no objection to civil partnerships between people of the same gender, it is, as a recent statement put it, “committed to the traditional understanding of the institution of marriage as being between one man and one woman.”
Speaking to reporters Monday, Welby, a former oil company executive, said: “I support the Church of England’s position on this. We have made many statements about this, and I stick with that.”
His stance did not come as a surprise since he had made it clear at the time of his appointment in November, but the timing of his remarks was certain play into both the political and the ecclesiastical debate about the issue. The church has long been locked in debate over gender issues, including the consecration of female and gay bishops and same-sex marriage.
In December, the church voted narrowly to reject the notion of female bishops, despite support from senior clerics including Welby. In January, the church followed up with a ruling admitting openly gay priests in civil partnerships to its ranks, provided that, unlike heterosexual bishops, they remained celibate.
Parliament is set to vote Tuesday on a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage that has been championed by Prime Minster David Cameron. The issue, however, has inspired one of the most toxic and potentially embarrassing rebellions among Cameron’s Conservative Party colleagues since he took office as the head of a coalition government in 2010.
British news reports have suggested that as many as 180 of the 303 Conservative Party members of Parliament might oppose Cameron or abstain from voting.