Gay Bishop to Enter Civil Union Ahead of Key Anglican Meeting

The Episcopal bishop at the heart of the deep division within the Anglican Communion announced plans to enter into a same-sex civil union next summer.

Taking advantage of a newly signed law that offers civil unions for same-sex couples in New Hampshire, openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson unveiled an unofficial date for the civil union in an interview with BBC journalist Michael Buerk.

"We were looking for a three-day weekend which would allow people to travel more easily, and that happened to be the fifth anniversary of my election as the Bishop of New Hampshire and thought that would be an appropriate date," said Robinson, according to the Church of England Newspaper.

Robinson was elected Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire on June 7, 2003, and was the first openly gay bishop to be consecrated that year in November, which widened rifts in the worldwide Anglican body, now at the brink of schism.

The Anglican Communion rejects homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture and opposes the blessing of same-sex unions or ordaining those involved in same gender unions.

Robinson's tentative June civil union would occur just weeks before Lambeth 2008, the decennial worldwide gathering of Anglican leaders in July 2008. Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams, the Anglican Communion's spiritual leader, has withheld inviting Robinson to the conference, indicating that his appointment as bishop has caused serious division within the communion, but has extended invitations to U.S. Episcopal leaders who supported Robinson's consecration.

The Lambeth Conference is considered one of the Instruments of Communion or Unity but conservative Anglican bishops are threatening to boycott the gathering over the invitation of those who backed the consecration of the openly gay bishop and have not repented for it.

The archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, considered the most powerful leader in the Anglican Communion, said the absence of even one province from the meeting would indicate that the Lambeth Conference "effectively ceases to be an Instrument of Unity."

"I believe that Peter Akinola, the Archbishop of Nigeria, one of the primary spokespeople against my election, I believe he is following his call from God as best as he can," Robinson said in the interview. "I just wish he could believe I am following my call from God as best I can."

While Robinson is planning to enter into civil union just ahead of the meeting, he said his critics would find any date he sets "impermissible."

"I am certainly not doing that to rub salt into anyone's wounds, but no one should expect me to penalize me and my partner when these rights are being offered," said Robinson in the interview, according to the Church of England Newspaper.

And although he values the Anglican Communion, the bishop said he would never stand down from his position and God's call to him.

Still, Robinson admitted that as the communion faces schism, mainly over what conservatives say is the departure of The Episcopal Church as well as the Anglican Church of Canada from Scripture, and that The Episcopal Church may have got it wrong.

"This was not just my doing this was an entire community's doing, and that community tried its very best to discern the will of God, and we may be wrong," he said.

"I am ready to admit to you that I cannot be sure that this is the right thing or the right time or the right way," he added.

The Episcopal Church has been given a Sept. 30 deadline to unequivocally pledge not to consecrate another openly gay bishop or authorize official prayers for same-sex couples.

If The Episcopal Church does not meet the deadline and answers "without clarifications and unambiguity on where they stand on same sex blessings," some say said it could signal a break up of the communion, as many are predicting.