The Church of England has issued a formal apology for its “shameful” treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.

In a letter released on 20 January, bishops acknowledged the “hostile and homophobic” response many LGBTQ+ people have often faced.

“We want to apologise for the ways in which the Church of England has treated LGBTQI+ people – both those who worship in our churches and those who do not,” the letter said.

“For the times we have rejected or excluded you, and those you love, we are deeply sorry. The occasions on which you have received a hostile and homophobic response in our churches are shameful and for this we repent.

“As we have listened, we have been told time and time again how we have failed LGBTQI+ people. We have not loved you as God loves you, and that is profoundly wrong.

“We affirm, publicly and unequivocally, that LGBTQI+ people are welcome and valued: we are all children of God.”

It came just days after bishops rejected calls to allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages, despite it being legal in England since 2013.

Instead, they proposed that couples who get married in a civil ceremony may have their union blessed in church, which will be debated at the Church’s equivalent of a parliament, the General Synod, in February.

“The offer of a mere blessing is an insult”

LGBTQ+ activist Peter Tatchell, who has been campaigning against homophobia in the church for more than 50 years, criticised the letter.

He told GAY TIMES: “The apology and repentance is worthless, given that the church continues to discriminate by denying LGBTs the right to marry the person they love.

“That’s discrimination and discrimination is not a Christian value. It is putting ancient dogma before the emotional and spiritual welfare of Anglican same-sex couples.

“The offer of a mere blessing is an insult. It is second best, crumbs from the table and no substitute for marriage equality.

“The Church of England has made it clear that LGBT+ people are not entitled to an equal place within the Anglican communion. Their stance is reminiscent of the churches in the southern states of the US that refused to marry inter-racial couples during the segregation era.

“Fifty-five percent of Anglicans support same-sex marriage, according to a YouGov poll last year. The church is out of touch.”

Same-sex marriage is backed my a majority of Church of England members

As Tatchell stated, a majority of Church of England members believe that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.

More than half (55%) of respondents to a YouGov poll commissioned by the Ozanne Foundation said same-sex marriages should be allowed in the Church.

Less than one in 10 (9%) believed same-sex marriage to be “wrong” in some capacity – a decrease in comparison to recent years.

Jayne Ozanne, a gay Christian activist who chairs the Ban Conversion Therapy Coalition, questioned the apology given that it is not the first time one has been made.

She said: “I do wonder whether the Archbishops have actually forgotten they’ve apologised to us before, many times, or whether they really think that this will cut it for us given that discrimination continues?”

READ MORE: Church of England bishops refuse to support same-sex marriage

Ben Bradshaw, a Labour MP who was one of the first to enter into a civil partnership, expressed his frustrations on Twitter: “Today’s @churchofengland bishops’ actual recommendations on same sex marriage are even worse than what had been trailed,” he wrote. “Another apology for being institutionally homophobic, but no change. I can’t imagine Parliament remaining passive on this, given CofE’s established status.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, stated that the position on same-sex marriage was made to “seek the common good” though acknowledged it will “go too far for some and not nearly far enough for others”.

The proposals are set to be debated on 8 February.