Gay-wedding day dawns as Church remains clouded

28 March 2014

ALICIA CLARKE

Seventeen-year wait: Peter McGraith and David Cabreza plan to be married in Islington at 12.01 tonight

Seventeen-year wait: Peter McGraith and David Cabreza plan to be married in Islington at 12.01 tonight

AS THE first same-sex marriages take place, starting at one minute past midnight tonight, the Church remains split on the issue.

The first marriage will be be-tween Peter McGraith, a 49-year-old writer and designer, and David Cabreza, his partner of 17 years, at Islington Town Hall. The campaigner Peter Tatchell will be a witness. Mr Cabreza told The Independent: "While this is a deeply personal thing . . . we're doing it publicly, partly to display to the whole world that our country recognises and respects our relationship. Marriage is not the apotheosis of gay rights [but] it's a step in the right direction."

At eleven o'clock tomorrow, thousands will gather at the Southbank Centre for the "I Do To Equal Marriage" festival. They will watch the broadcaster Sandi Toksvig and her partner Debbie Toksvig renew their vows (they entered into a civil partnership seven years ago), joined on stage by their four children. A "mass singalong" will feature the London Gay Men's Chorus.

The House of Bishops last month reiterated the line that clergy should not provide services of blessing for those in civil partnerships or in same-sex marriages. A number of clerics have, however, vowed to defy this guidance ( News, 21 February).

On Monday, the Vicar of St Pancras, the Revd Anne Stevens, said that she would conduct blessings for those who had a civil marriage ceremony. "We would talk to each couple about what kind of service they would want. With a blessing, you always have the opportunity to create the service together; so we are very flexible about that."

She said that the Chuch was "still coming to terms with the effects of the Equality Act, and at the moment I'm not sure that the advice we have been given is entirely legal. It seems very odd that I have to discriminate between gay and straight couples who come to me. It may be that test cases are required, and if that helps clarify the law for all of us, then I think that is a useful thing.

"This is not intended as an act of rebellion; but we want to send out positive signals to the gay community and, as a church, want to help clarify the law."

The Vicar of St Mary with All Souls', Kilburn, and St James's, West Hampstead, the Revd Andrew Cain, said that he had offered "services of thanksgiving for a number of years. Each service is shaped by the couple and based on the service of thanksgiving and prayer after a civil marriage in Common Worship. Some go for that format and others want a more relaxed and informal form of prayer. We don't do pretend marriages, but we do meet the pastoral need of the couple in the same way we do with more conventional marriage services."

Mr Cain is planning to marry his partner, Stephen Foreshew ( News, 21 February).

Ms Stevens and Mr Cain are among 17 priests in Camden who have signed a letter sent to local newspapers offering their congratulations to gay couples celebrating their wedding day in the borough. The letter concludes: "We pray for all those who are marrying this year that they may find rich comfort and blessing in each other for the whole of their life together."

On Tuesday, Lucy Gorman, who runs an LGBT Christian fellowship group in Hull, said that the legalisation of same-sex marriage was "absolutely brilliant. . . I can finally marry someone that I love." But it came with a "sting" because "I still can't marry the woman that I love in the church that I go to."

Miss Gorman, who is 24, came out when she was 17, and, having identified a "massive gap in the market for something up north", set up the group six months ago. She had been approached by people who "said they used to be Christian and came out in church and thought it wasn't allowed. It is just crazy, and the Pastoral Statement [from the House of Bishops] just reinforces those attitudes and it is not true."

She said: "If I was in the position where I wanted to get married, I would probably go somewhere like the URC or the Methodists and see if I could do it there, because I would want the woman I love, and my family, and God involved all in that one service. Those are the massive factors in your life, and the fact you can't put them together in one service, one event, is really sad to be honest."

"No witch hunts". On Saturday, the Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, addressing his diocesan synod, apologised that the statement from the House of Bishops had been "clumsy and hurtful".

He said: "The tone had the awkward sound of scratching a blackboard. It was written by committee and no one at the meeting of the House would have produced it, if they were writing alone." He argued, however, that "We were never likely to try and change two thousand years of belief and practice about marriage in a day in February at Church House, Westminster." The Church was operating in a culture "chaotically confused about sex. . . Multiple sexual partners are wreaking havoc on relational stability, sexual infections are massively increasing, hardly anyone is a virgin on their wedding night, and so on. And in the middle of all thatwe're trying steadily to work outa theologically coherent approachto same sex marriage. But I think,in a sense, we're doing this on behalf of the nation. We're trying to be responsible. We're trying to grapple with a serious moral issue in a way that models openness and respect."

He promised that there would be "no witch hunts in this diocese".

Leader comment

Question of the week: Should clergy bless same-sex couples, despite the House of Bishops' guidance? 

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