Fourteen gay Church of England clergy defy rules to marry their partners

Gay rights campaigners protest in the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral in Canterbury during the Anglican Primates meeting earlier this year.Reuters

Fourteen gay clergy who have married their partners in defiance of  Church of England rules are calling for "full inclusion" of LGBT clergy.

In a letter sent today to all the Church's bishops, the clergy say: "It is time to respect that a diversity of theology within the Church now exists and that there is more than one understanding of what a faithful Christian may believe on these issues."

The letter, also signed by eight laity who are church members who have married their partners, is timed deliberately in advance of this month's meeting of the House of Bishops, who will be discussing the next steps after nearly two years of "shared conversations" on the issue held privately in dioceses around the country.

It also comes after the Bishop of Grantham Nicholas Chamberlain became the first bishop to come out as gay and partnered, and to talk about living with the bishops' guidelines which stipulate that gay clergy must be celibate.

The divisions over the issue extend beyond the Church of England to the wider Anglican Communion. Members of the LGBT community protested at Canterbury Cathedral earlier this year at the end of a meeting of worldwide Anglican church leaders that imposed "consequences" on the US Episcopal Church for sanctioning gay marriage.

The Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, or Gafcon, has described the appointment of Chamberlain as a "major error".

In their letter, the 14 clergy, some of which have withheld their names because of privacy and confidentiality issues, write to the bishops: "As you meet to discuss we seek from you a clear lead that offers a way forward to greater inclusion that will enable those parishes that wish to do so to celebrate the love that we have found in our wives and husbands. We hope for an outcome that will enable those who wish to do so to publicly celebrate where we see God at work in the lives of our congregations without fear and in openness."

Father Andrew Foreshew-Cain (R) and partner Stephen

The letter headed by Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain, Vicar of St Mary with All Souls, Kilburn and St James', West Hampstead, who was the first serving gay clergyman to marry his partner and who is also a member of General Synod.

Foreshew-Cain told Christian Today: "The letter calls for the bishops to take a bold move towards greater recognition and unconditional inclusion for LGBTI members of the Church. Copies of the letter were posted today to all the bishops.

"The letter includes the names of many of those clergy who have married their wives and husbands despite the attempts of the Bishops to stop them from doing so. Some have chosen to signify assent to the letter, whilst withholding their names from public view. Some have done so because they have not told their bishops that they are married, others to protect their supportive bishops from pressure and some to prevent their bishops from taking action against them."

Some of the couples are revealing their marriage status for the first time.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said at the Greenbelt Christian Festival that he was "consumed with horror" at the way the Church has treated gay people. 

Foreshew-Cain said: "We are promising to pray for our Bishops as they meet and want to encourage them to be bold and honest as they help the Church to move forward. The Church needs to allow the talk about good disagreement to become a reality on the ground so that parishes and communities which want to celebrate and welcome gay and lesbian married and civilly partnered couples can do so, without fear of retribution."

The signatories say in the letter: "We are just a few of the many gay and lesbian people in this country who have in the past two years been able to celebrate with families, friends, and in our cases often our local church community, the enriching and life enhancing love we have found in our wives and husbands."

They call on the Church to "move forward".

They say: "We fully appreciate that the time may not yet be right for a change in the Church's official understanding of marriage. But many in our parishes have already made that move and it is time to respect that a diversity of theology within the Church now exists and that there is more than one understanding of what a faithful Christian may believe on these issues."

The other named signatories are Rev Richard Harris and Ricardo Goncalves, Rev Garry Lawson and Timothy Wane, Rev Clive Larson and John Markham, Rev Paul Collier and Mr Collier, Canon Jeremy Davis and Simon McEnery, Rev Geoffrey Thompson and Tony Steeles and Rev Prof Mark Cobb and Keith Arrowsmith.

The named laity are Jeremy Timm and Mike Brown, Ruth Wilde & Ellie Wilde, Jack Semple and Ross Griffiths, Paul Jellings and Andrew Carter, Erica Baker and Susan Strong, Karen and Samantha Bregazzi-Jones, Keith Barber and Tim Mills, Simon Dawson and David Mooney.

A further seven clergy couples and readers said they wished to remain anonymous in order to protect themselves, and often their bishops, from attack.