A senior Church of England clergyman yesterday became the first to enter into a gay marriage – in direct defiance of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby – plunging the Church into a fresh crisis.
Canon Jeremy Pemberton tied the knot with Laurence Cunnington under new laws allowing same-sex marriages pushed through by David Cameron in the face of bitter opposition from backbench MPs and the Church.
But Canon Pemberton, 58, now faces disciplinary action from the Church and could be expelled from his work as a priest because the House of Bishops has barred clergy from entering such unions, saying they undermine its traditional teaching that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.
Archbishop Welby defended the policy in a radio interview last week, saying that if the Church accepted gay marriage it could be ‘catastrophic’ for Christians in Africa, hundreds of whom had been killed by people who associated Christianity with homosexuality.
But the Oxford-educated Canon Pemberton, a hospital chaplain from Southwell, Nottinghamshire, said: ‘I love this man and I want to be married to him.
‘That’s what I want. It is the same as anyone who wants to get married.’
Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, he described the private ceremony in front of family and friends in a local hotel as ‘very joyous, very happy’.
He said he had told the Bishop of Lincoln, Christopher Lowson – in whose area he works as deputy senior chaplain of the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust – of his intention to marry Mr Cunnington, 51.
But he refused to comment on the conversation, saying he was fully aware of the Church’s position. Asked how he expected to feel after the ceremony, he said: ‘We will feel married.’
Bishop Lowson confirmed he had told Canon Pemberton of the House of Bishops’ statement but would not say if he was planning disciplinary action.
Canon Pemberton, a former parish priest and a divorced father of five, held his wedding under new laws that came into force last month giving gay couples the same rights to marriages as heterosexuals.
Gay clergy can already enter into civil partnerships if they promise to remain celibate, but these are primarily legal arrangements while marriages include public vows.
Under guideline from bishops published in February, clergy are not only barred from gay marriages but they cannot conduct them for others or bless such unions in church.
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