This July saw the Very Reverend Tom Gordon enter into a Civil Partnership with his partner of 20 years. This made him the first Anglican clergyman in Ireland to do so and of course the announcement was widely welcomed by those who wish to see religious groups embrace the gay community. Gordon said that the partnership is a legal instrument rather than a ‘marriage’, however, you’d have to assume he is in love with the man he has spent 20 years with, so why the cold language?
Well, it turns out that in England, the Anglican church requires celibacy from it’s reverends who are in civil unions. Although the Church of Ireland is yet to make a call on this, it might explain why he is describing the union in such legal terms. Speaking about any negativity he may have encountered from within the church he says
I have not had anything here. Quite the opposite – I have had very warm support right across the board
Well it seems that may have now taken a turn. A leading evangelical layman has said that he can see the Civil Partnership of a reverend causing a split in the church. Dermot O’Callaghan has said
This (partnership) has come in without discussion. The Church of England tried to grapple with the issue of Civil Partnerships in a way that the Church of Ireland has never got around to doing
Baring in mind that Reverend Gordon has stated that the bishop of his diocese, Bishop Michael Burrows, knew both of his relationship and of his plans to Partner, well in advance of the ceremony, Mr O’Callaghan’s remarks seem out of order. Speaking specifically about the North/South divide he says
Significantly there is a difference between north and south…This is a very painful and risky aspect of it. It is evident from what Tom Gordon has said that not only his bishop but the people in his area support him fully… In the north there would be a much greater sense of unwillingness to support that kind of step. I would be concerned in case we get a polarising in the Church of Ireland between north and south
So is Mr O’Callaghan just using the tensions between North and South to gain sympathy for his view or does he have a point? For me he is just disguising his homophobia. I find his stance slightly off topic so to speak.
Church of Ireland primate, Archbishop Alan Harper, has also gotten in on the act echoing that it could cause a rift in the church. Archbishop Harper believes that Civil Partnerships have “not been a major issue” in the South compared to the North. He says
Differences of opinion already exist. This has sharpened the debate, focused it more narrowly and it does have the capacity to be a source of significant division
When I first read about the Union I thought, great, good for you. Then I read Rev Gordon’s comments that it is not a ‘marriage’ but a legal contract and I thought, that’s not terribly romantic is it? Rev Gordon has Civilly Partnered a man he has been with for two decades, why not just say it is what it is, a romantic union of two people who love each other? I tell myself that perhaps he is just talking the talk. The fact the church may well expect celibacy from people in Unions is very odd too, I mean come on, they aren’t mates, they’re partners. Furthermore, Mr O’Callaghan seems to be going way off script in his efforts to be homophobic without seeming to be so and Archbishop Harper seems to agree, at least in part.
What do you think on this issue? Archbishop Harper has said that Partnerships are “civil right enshrined in law” and has agreed that the church can’t influence that. However, Rev Gordon is a member of the Anglican church, and as such, must follow their rules. So did he get Partnered before he could be stopped? If so, you have to applaud him. However, what he has said since isn’t exactly flying the flag for marriage equality.
With a minister at a Scottish church announcing plans for a Civil Partnership, it seems the debate will continue.