Gay vicar won’t promise to remain celibate after civil partnership
The Rev Colin Coward, director of the liberal Changing Attitude church group, plans to tie the knot with his fiance in a civil partnership in October.
Rev Coward, 65, a priest at St John the Baptist church in Devizes, Wiltshire, hopes to have a civil partnership with his boyfriend of three years, 25-year-old Bobby Egbele.
The pair plan to have a “carefully-worded” blessing in church, which to keep in line with Church of England laws, must not actually mention them as a gay couple.
Instead, the couple will have a Communion Eucharist service which blesses “friendship”.
Rev Coward also plans to reject requests for him to stay celibate. Church of England law accepts gay priests, including those in civil partnerships, so long as they do not have sex.
He said that he doubted whether his boss, Bishop of Ramsbury Stephen David Conway, would ask the “intrusive” question.
Although the couple have pencilled in October 9th for their civil partnership and church ‘blessing’ in Devizes, Wiltshire, they must wait for confirmation that they can marry from the UK Border Agency, as Mr Egbele is a Nigerian national.
The couple met at a Changing Attitude conference in Togo, west Africa, in 2007 and now live together. Mr Egbele runs an online fashion shop.
Rev Coward told BBC Wiltshire: “Churches are not supposed to bless civil partnerships. It can bless almost anything else animals, bombs, battleships, armies going to war but gay couples? No.
“So our church blessing has to be carefully-worded in so far as it does not use the word blessing in the context of the two of us in relationship.”
He added: “Clearly it’s going to be quite a sensitive issue. I know that many people will see it and view it with horror.
“But we are both deeply committed Christians so it would be unthinkable for me not to do it in church and not to do it with the congregation and with all of our friends.”
On the issue of celibacy, he said: “What we’re allowed to do, as a gay couple, is what this all about.
“And certainly those in ordained ministry are not supposed to be sexually active.
“But in practice, some bishops absolutely will give their approval knowing that a couple is in a civil partnership and that they are sharing the same bed, and will encourage them to do that.”
However, he added that some gay priests can find themselves “black-balled” for refusing to obey church laws on sexuality.
Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk today, Rev Coward said that if permitted, he and Mr Egbele would opt to be married in a church service if they could, rather than a civil partnership.
He added: “It’s clear that a huge majority [of gay people] want marriage.”