The Saturday marriage of Canon Jeremy Pemberton to Laurence Cunnington marked the first time a priest had defied the Church of England’s ban on gay marriage.
Pemberton, a 58-year-old hospital chaplain and member of the Church’s Lincoln diocese, could not have wed his longtime partner in an Anglican church. The Church refused to support the government's upholding of gay marriage legislation last month. It bans clergy both from being part of same-sex unions and presiding over them.
The House of Bishops’ guidance on same-sex marriage, signed by Archbishop Welby and the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, said after the change in U.K. law: “We are all in agreement that the Christian understanding and doctrine of marriage as a lifelong union between one man and one woman remains unchanged.”
Pemberton signed a 2012 letter to the Telegraph stating that he, among other clergy, would encourage gay couples to marry elsewhere if the Church did not allow it.
The chaplain married his 51-year-old partner outside a local hotel in a ceremony he described to the Daily Mail as “very joyous, very happy.” The divorced father of five told the Bishop of Lincoln about his intentions to defy the church, but the only comment he made about how he and his husband would feel after the ceremony was, “We will feel married.”
Some more liberal senior members of the clergy congratulated the couple on their nuptials.
“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,” said Rev. Colin Coward, a friend of Pemberton’s and director of the Changing Attitude campaign group.
“I hope the bishops find a way to affirm and bless their relationship rather than taking action against them.”