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Gay Episcopal Bishop Prepares for June Wedding

by Priscilla Greear

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday December 4, 2007

The nation's first openly gay Episcopal bishop told a crowd of about 200 that come June he's marching down the aisle with his longtime male partner Mark Andrew.

"I always wanted to be a June bride," said Bishop Gene Robinson at a talk on Nov. 27 at Nova Southeastern University.

"It may take many years for religious institutions to add their blessing for same-sex marriages and no church, mosque or synagogue should be forced to do so. But that should not slow down progress for the full civil right to marry," Robinson said. "Because New Hampshire will have legal unions beginning in January, my partner of 20 years and I will enter into such a legal union next June."

Robinson's address concluded the 2007 Goodwin Symposium on Sex, Morality and the Law sponsored by Nova Southeastern University's Shepard Broad Law Center. The four-part lecture series began Oct. 11 with Suzanne Goldberg, a leading attorney on lesbian and gay rights issues, who discussed how the U.S. Supreme Court addresses sexual orientation issues.

Wearing a raspberry clergy shirt with a cleric collar and pectoral cross, Robinson characterized the "religious right" as close-minded, taking a literal interpretation of Bible condemnation of homosexuality.

"The greatest single hindrance to achievement of full rights for gays and lesbians can be laid at the doorstep of the three Abrahamic faiths-- Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It's going to take people of faith to end discrimination," said Robinson, who was invested as the ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire in 2004.

The Episcopal church, in response to objections by the Anglican Communion of which it is a part, has agreed to not ordain bishops living in same gender unions or to establish public rites for same sex blessings as it continues dialogue. But it affirms the dignity of homosexuals and civil rights. In protest, four U.S. dioceses have taken initial steps to realign themselves with another province of the worldwide Anglican communion.

Robinson, a divorced father of two adult daughters, emphasized that scripture must viewed in its historical context. Citing specific verses in Leviticus calling male homosexual acts an abomination, Robinson noted that that same holiness code says eating pork is an abomination and that children cursing their parents is punishable with death. He said that the concept of sexual orientation didn't emerge until about a century


Jesus said divorce is only permitted with adultery, for which the Episcopal Church used to deny the divorced Communion and view remarriage as adultery, Robinson said.

"We changed our mind as a culture, as a nation, as a church about something we have been very sure about for a couple thousand years."

'I always wanted to be a June bride.'

Not all of Robinson's audience was in agreement.

God's law on sexual ethics don't change with the culture, said the Rev. Gary Cass, a Presbyterian minister and CEO of the Christian Anti-defamation Commission in Fort Lauderdale. He challenged the university to hold a follow-up event with experts opposing gay marriage.

"We all have to follow Christ. This is the standard. Sexuality is reserved for marriage between a man and woman," Cass said. "Just because it's hard doesn't mean you get to change the standard."

Tension heightened as the bishop responded.

"I'm not sure we have to agree about these things in order to find our unity in belief in Jesus Christ and trust in a loving God who will take care of whatever these differences are," Robinson said, adding that he is grateful that society is generally more accepting of homosexuals since he grew up in a conservative Christian home "as a geeky gay kid in rural Kentucky in the 1950s."

Katherine Allen, a Catholic from Fort Lauderdale, said she also believes that marriage is between a man and woman and interconnected with procreation. But she came to the lecture to learn more. Homosexuals are entitled to workplace benefits and should not be discriminated against, she said.

"They are also God's children who should be ministered to," said Allen who has been married for 50 years and raised seven children.

Robinson also tried to link what he sees as oppression of human rights of homosexuals to discrimination against woman, blacks and others.

"I believe the Holy Spirit leads us into deeper truth about equality, dignity and truth about every human being. The Holy Spirit is unrelenting, keeps leading and guiding us to the full inclusion of all God's children."

Nova law student Brian Kirlew, a Catholic, said he opposes discrimination against anyone, and thinks people often cloak it with religious justification. The essence of Christianity is helping the less fortunate, he said. The debate over homosexuality is distracting.

"Jesus' predominant message is taking care of the poor," Kirlew said.