By Damian Thompson, Telegaph
Well, that didn’t take long. As my colleague Edward Malnick reports, a gay Church of England priest – a canon, no less – today married his boyfriend. Canon Jeremy Pemberton, 58, a divorced hospital chaplain and father of five, wed his long-term partner Laurence Cunnington, 51. We’re not told where, but obviously it wasn’t in a C of E church. That’s against the law. But they may well be able to have their marriage blessed in church because that’s only “against the rules” as opposed to illegal.
Campaigners predicted that Canon Pemberton would be the first of many. I think they’re right. After all, it’s not as if Mr Pemberton’s boss, the Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson, is handing him over to the Inquisition. Over at the Mail, my old friend Jonathan Petre reports that “Bishop Lowson confirmed he had told Canon Pemberton of the House of Bishops’ statement [telling gay priests not to marry] but would not say if he was planning disciplinary action”.
I’m no expert on Anglican canon law, but I’d guess that the punishment facing Mr Pemberton is the withdrawal of his licence to officiate at services (he doesn’t have a parish). Technically he could be defrocked, but that would involve a messy legal process… by which time other priests will have tied the knot. The Rev Andrew Cain, for example, who was the first clergyman to declare his intention to marry, and who explained why in our Telegram podcast (click here).
That will be an interesting case. Mr Cain is the Vicar of St Mary with All Souls in Kilburn and St James in West Hampstead and known to parishioners as “Father Andrew” – ie, he’s an Anglo-Catholic. North London is full of High Church priests with same-sex partners. If only a few of them defy their bishop and get married, then the Diocese of London faces a public relations as well as a legal nightmare.
Likewise, Chichester. I once went to a party in Brighton where a bishop turned up with his much younger Italian boyfriend. None of the other clergy present were bishops but they were all gay. Those were the days of the “gin, lace and backbiting” subculture, which wasn’t a great advertisement for gay men or the C of E. The culture now is more open, but many homosexual clergy are still uncomfortable about their relationships – they feel that the General Synod forces them to be hypocritical or secretive. This is a Church, after all, that enjoins celibacy on gay priests but not gay laity, a compromise that I can’t see surviving for much longer.