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Long Island Episcopal Bishop Lawrence Provenzano said there is nothing "punitive" about the nine-month period he set for clergy to marry their partners — a length of time he said was similar to an academic year. No one will be disciplined for failing to meet the deadline. Instead, he said he would handle each priest’s situation on a case-by-case basis. He noted that some private employers are considering restricting domestic partner benefits to those who are legally married.
"I need to be mindful that the church has always asked people to live in committed monogamous, faithful relationships," Provenzano said. "I won’t allow heterosexual clergy to live in a rectory or church housing without the benefit of marriage. When one puts it in that context, then you see how it all begins to make sense."
The Rev. Christopher Hofer, pastor of the Episcopal Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, on Long Island, said he has heard no complaints from other gay or lesbian clergy about the policy. Hofer plans a "big" August wedding in his parish with his partner of 17 years, Kerry Brady. They live in the church rectory, where on a recent evening they waited together for a messenger to deliver their wedding rings.
"I think Bishop Provenzano’s statement was not only fair, but beyond generous. It gives people time, acknowledging that there’s a financial component involved, and recognizing that some may not choose to live together," Hofer said. "Now that the state is recognizing civil marriage, we as priests, perhaps deacons too, who are in committed relationships, have a choice: We either live what we preach, to become civilly married, or we choose to live apart."
No other Episcopal dioceses in states with same-gender marriage have set an explicit deadline for gay clergy to marry their live-in partners.
Episcopal Bishop John Chane, of the Diocese of Washington, allowed local priests to perform same-sex marriages in parishes that approved the ceremonies, but did not ask clergy to marry or live alone. He said it wouldn’t be fair, since so few states recognize the marriages, and state and federal laws like the Defense of Marriage Act are still in effect and "deny the human rights and disrespect the orientation" of gays and lesbians. He said five gay clergy have married in the Diocese of Washington since same-sex marriages started last year.
. At St. James Episcopal Church, Fordham, in the Diocese of New York, the Rev. Tobias Haller, plans to wed his male partner of more than three decades at the end of this month, but not in his parish. The couple plans a civil ceremony only.
"We had our church wedding 31 years ago," Haller said, of a private blessing they had received from a rector.
Haller said he understands and accepts Sisk’s approach to the issue. The bishop meets with gay and lesbian clergy in the diocese every few months and had previously discussed his hope that they would marry their partners if they had the chance, Haller said.
"It makes sense to me," Haller said. "It’s certainly a standard bishops would expect of heterosexual clergy."
Rachel Zoll can be reached at twitter.com/rzollAP
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