The church's current official line is to support "the way civil partnerships offer same-sex couples equal rights and responsibilities to married heterosexual couples." But it argues that government plans to open marriage to same-sex couples would confer few if any new legal rights on the part of those already in a civil partnership, and would require "multiple changes to law, with the definition of marriage having to change for everyone."
Introducing same-sex marriage could lead to the church being forced out of its role of conducting weddings on behalf of the state, according to an official response published in June by the Church of England, which is established in UK law as the state church.
Against this backdrop, moderate conservatives inside the church yearn for a steady hand on the tiller but also for one not afraid of taking on what they perceive as two extremes.
“It’s all just going to explode, really, and you will need someone at the helm who is going to say: ‘Look, this is what we believe and so to now go down a different route isn’t going to work, and either you join our party and play properly or else this isn’t going to work,” said Peter Ould, a priest and conservative commentator on issues around the Church of England and sexuality.
Going into the "race" earlier this year, the three front-runners were thought to be Christopher Cocksworth, the Bishop of Coventry; Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich; and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York.
Of them, Bishops Cocksworth and James have been characterized as competent managers rather than figures likely to chart a radical new course for the Church, perhaps just the type of safe pairs of hands favored by many wanting to keep a lid on divisions.