Church of England faces ‘crisis’ as first priest defies teachings to marry gay partner

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The first Church of England priest has broken ranks to marry his same-sex partner as a senior member warns of “crisis” if such clergy members are not “disciplined”.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton, got married to his partner Laurence Cunnington on Saturday.

The hospital chaplain, 58, was the first Church of England priest to defy church teachings to marry under same-sex marriage legislation which came into effect last month.

Same-sex marriage campaigners have commended the couple for marrying, and have urged Church of England bishops to bless the partnership.

It is predicted that many more gay clergy members will marry, but a member of the evangelical wing warned that such weddings should not be allowed to take place.

Reverend Prebendary Rod Thomas, chairman of the Reform evangelical group, on Saturday said: “There’s no doubt that there is pressure within some parts of the church for the Church to change its mind on sexuality.

“If there is not clear discipline then it is the equivalent to saying ‘we really didn’t mean what we said.’ It will precipitate a crisis.”

Pemberton is a father of five, and a chaplain at Lincoln hospital, as well as in the Southwell and Nottingham diocese.

He signed a letter in December 2012 from 150 clergy members warning that they would defy the church if it refused to allow same-sex weddings.

The church is currently divided on the issue of same-sex marriage and earlier this year the House of Bishops decided to ban gay clergy from marrying. 

Reverend Colin Coward, a friend of Pemberton’s and the director of the Changing Attitude campaign group, said: “I’m really, really happy for Jeremy and his partner that they are finally able to get married after a long time of being together as a couple.

“I hope the bishops find a way to affirm and bless their relationship rather than taking action against them.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury last month signalled the end of the church’s resistance to same-sex marriage, and since defended the church’s position against an attack live on LBC from former MP Ann Widdecombe, but also claimed that African Christians would be killed if the church was too quick to change its stance on gay relationships.