Church of England priest quits to marry gay partner

A gay Church of England priest has quit in order to marry his long-term male partner.

Rev Clive Larsen (left) celebrated his marriage to partner John with a service in the church where until the day before he had been priest.Facebook / Clive Larsen

The Rev Clive Larsen left his position in the diocese of Manchester on Friday so he could get married on Monday without having to face disciplinary action, according to The Sunday Times. Larsen is believed to be the first priest to resign over the issue, although four other CoE priest have ignored the ban imposed by bishops and been punished as a result.

"The church does not permit it and if this is something you want to do, you have to pay the price and leave the church," said Larsen. "I am aware of two other clergy who have had [same-sex] marriages and the church has made life very difficult for them."

Larsen is previously married and has two daughters. He is now a trustee of the LGBT Anglican activist group Changing Attitude who say his life "took on a new direction at the dawn of the new millennium".

He celebrated his upcoming marriage with a service on Saturday at St Agnes Church in North Reddish, Stockport, where until the day before he had been priest-in-charge. He will officially marry John, who he has lived with for seven years, on Monday.

Saturday's ceremony used liturgy originally intended for civil partnerships and began with: "God the giver of life, God the bearer of pain, God the maker of love, bless, preserve and keep you."

A notice on the church website, which has since been removed, announced the service and read: "A ceremony of commitment and blessing . . . Clive will be resigning his post in the church from the day before."

The term "bless" is a hotly contested theological term as it signifies approval. Its use is likely to anger conservatives within the Church.

When same-sex marriage legislation came in, bishops in the CoE issued guidelines that banned priests from entering or officiating in same-sex marriages. They were threatened with disciplinary action from their local bishop if they ignored these rules.

Larsen said he hoped to leave amicably and did not want to embarrass either David Walker, his local Bishop of Manchester, or the wider church. But he authorised Rev Colin Coward, founder and former director of Changing Attitude, to speak on his behalf.

Coward, who conducted Saturday's service, accused the Church of "double-standards" and working under a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Coward said the Church had not objected to Coward living with his gay partner in the rectory but objected to them marrying.

He added that Larsen had been open with his bishop about his gay relationship and that it was widely known he had left his previous post when his previous heterosexual marriage ended and he came out as gay.

A spokesperson for the diocese of Manchester said: "Clive does not have permission to officiate as a priest in the diocese, nor has he sought to apply for it."

They simply added that Larsen had been made aware of the House of Bishops' pastoral guidelines on same-sex marriage, according to The Sunday Times.

The Church of England has completed two-years of private talks over gay marriage and bishops will decide on future steps in the autumn.Reuters