The priest heading an Episcopal parish in Bath, N.Y., has decided to marry his longtime gay partner, according to a recent announcement.
The Very Rev. J. Brad Benson, rector of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, plans to get married this summer in a state where same-sex marriage is legal.
"After twenty years of loving relationship, my partner Carl Johengen and I have decided that it is time that we were legally married," he wrote in the church's most recent newsletter.
The St. Thomas rector explained that he has begun to see the word "marriage" in purely legal terms and has come to realize that he and his partner "need" the legal rights and responsibilities afforded in a marriage.
"No one questions the rights and responsibilities of a married couple; simply saying, 'I'm his wife' or 'I'm her husband' opens many legal doors," he stated.
Benson was one of hundreds of clergy and lay leaders from across New York State who signed a petition in 2008 urging the state legislature to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians. The same-sex marriage measure was defeated by a wide margin in December.
After seeking legal marriage in another state, the gay couple will then seek the church's blessing through a liturgy which will be attended and presided by three bishops – Rochester Bishop Prince Singh, retired Bishop Jack McKelvey, and Maine Bishop Stephen Lane.
The announcement comes as more dioceses within The Episcopal Church have permitted clergy to wed homosexual couples despite the call by leaders in the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm, to practice gracious restraint in regards to the blessing of gay and lesbian couples.
Last summer, The Episcopal Church approved a resolution allowing "bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships are legal" to "provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this church."
The resolution also noted the need to consider providing theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender relationships. The Episcopal Church does not permit its "Order of Marriage" to be used in the marriage of same-sex couples.