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Gay West Hampstead vicar to defy church leaders by marrying atheist partner

PUBLISHED: 16:11 27 February 2014 | UPDATED: 17:23 27 February 2014

Father Andrew Cain with fiance Stephen Foreshew

Father Andrew Cain with fiance Stephen Foreshew

Archant

A West Hampstead gay vicar has vowed to marry his partner of 14 years despite the risk that he could be thrown out of the Church of England.

Fr Andrew Cain revealed his engagement to fiancé Stephen Foreshew, an atheist, on Valentine’s Day.

He stated firmly that he planned to ignore edicts sent down from his own church leaders that described marriage as only a “lifelong union between one man and one woman”.

The vicar for St James’, in Sheriff Road, West Hampstead, and St Mary’s with All Souls, Kilburn, could become the first gay clergy member in the country to marry under new same-sex marriage laws, set to come in next month.

Speaking to the Ham&High, Fr Andrew said he found it “very sad” that bishops had tried to block his “legal right to marry” and lamented laws that meant he was banished from being married in his own church.

“I’ve lived and worked in the church for 35 years and never have I felt unwelcome,” he said.

“It’s very sad that only now is my sexuality suddenly becoming an issue for some people. The church wants to promote faithful and stable relationships – the bedrock of our society. Well, I am in a faithful and stable relationship.

“God made me like this. He gave me Stephen and I’m pretty sure he would want me to be happy with him.”

On March 13, the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 comes into force allowing same-sex couples to marry for the first time.

The Church of England is, however, excluded from the new laws – a decision said to have left many gay clergy members anxious about their own rights to marriage.

Bishops high up in the church have so far refused to comment on whether Fr Andrew’s place as a vicar in West Hampstead remains secure.

The day after he announced his engagement, the House of Bishops released a statement renewing its own vow that matrimony between same-sex couples was unholy.

“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,” the statement read.

“Getting married to someone of the same sex would clearly be at variance with the teaching of the church.”

Describing the bishops as “out of touch”, Fr Andrew said messages of support had flooded in from other members of the clergy and his congregation.

The Rev Claire Wilson of neighbouring Emmanuel Church, in Lyncroft Gardens, West Hampstead, said she was “delighted” when she first heard of his engagement.

“I can tell you there are people quite high up in the church who I know actually support gay marriage in their heart of hearts,” she said.

“But as a bishop they feel they have to follow the rules set before them.

“I hope Fr Andrew isn’t disciplined for his decision and I hope the church will err on the side of generosity.

“There were big struggles along the road to getting the church to accept women as well.

“I remember when I stood with campaigners outside Church House in Westminster when the vote was taken to allow women to become priests in the early 1990s.

“Champagne corks were flying, people were celebrating – I would love that to happen some day soon for the gay religious community.”

A spokesman for the Diocese of London said the Bishop of Edmonton, Peter Wheatley, would be sitting down with Fr Andrew to discuss the matter on his return to the UK.

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