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A marriage made in heaven... but is it any such thing at all? From gay bishops to same-sex marriages, homosexuality has divided Christians all over the world and continues to threaten further ruptures. In the latest twist, the leader of Catholics in England and Wales, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, said gay marriage threatens the institution's "distinctive nature". Darren Devine examines the reaction THURSDAY ESSAY.

Byline: Darren Devine

RETIRED vicar Martin Reynolds became the first cleric in Wales to "marry" his partner Chris Iles in a civil ceremony in 2006.

Except as Mr Reynolds points out, it wasn't really a marriage, but a legal compact that fell short of matrimony, created by the Government as a sop to gays and lesbians.

Together for more than three decades, the Newport couple are waiting patiently for the time when the Government makes gay marriage legal - expected before the general election in 2015.

Mr Reynolds, 57, said: "Civil partnerships were a legal device created by the Government to try to persuade us not to want marriage.

"A civil partnership has no words or promises - you just go along to the registry office and sign on the dotted line. It's nothing like a marriage."

Despite the Government consultation on gay marriage, some very senior figures in Christian churches in Wales and beyond aim to keep it that way.

In a letter to Catholics in England and Wales due to be read from the pulpit in 2,500 churches during Mass this Sunday, the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, detailed his opposition.

Co-signed by the former Archbishop of Cardiff and now Archbishop of Southwark, the Most Rev Peter Smith, the letter claims that gay marriage would strip the union of its "distinctive nature" and fail to recognise crucial elements like having and educating children.

It argues that the roots of marriage lie in human nature and the complementarity and fertility pattern between "male and female" in the union is affirmed by many other religious traditions.

The letter has supporters among several high ranking conservative clerics within the Church in Wales.

The Archdeacon of Cardigan, Dr William Strange, echoed its sentiments, saying that gay marriage would "alter the definition" of matrimony.

Dr Strange, 58, a member of the Anglo-Catholic conservative alliance Anglican Mainstream, said: "[Marriage] has several important dimensions, including that it's between one man and one woman for life.

"So if we change the man and woman requirement, we might just as well also change the "for life" requirement.

"An arrangement which is temporary is not really marriage and similarly if we say it's not between a man and a woman, then that's not really marriage either."

Peter Jones, Chancellor of Bangor Cathedral, also regarded as a conservative, insisted the opposition to gay marriage was not rooted in homophobia "There's no necessary connection between believing same-sex marriage to be wrong and any hatred for people who may be attracted to their own sex," he said.

Canon Jones, 63, who is also Vicar of Conwy, added: "No responsible Christian is going to endorse hatred of any group or type or individual human being."

Andrew White, the director of gay rights group Stonewall Cymru, accused Archbishop Nichols of "using his religion as a cloak for prejudice", instead of tackling issues like child poverty or homelessness.

He added: "We support the Government's proposals to allow two people in love to enter a civil marriage, regardless of gender.

"We are crystal clear that if anyone such as the archbishop doesn't approve of same-sex marriage, they should make sure they don't get married to someone of the same sex."

The most senior figure in the Church in Wales, Archbishop Barry Morgan, who has called for "full acceptance of gay and lesbian people" previously, declined to comment.

But a spokeswoman said that its bishops are reviewing the Government's plans and admitted the issue is a source of division.

"There are varying positions within the Church in Wales between different people," she said.

"We have some people who are in principle in favour of extending marriage to gay couples and we have some who are very much opposed to it."

Meanwhile Mr Reynolds and his shopkeeper partner, who act as foster carers for two men with learning difficulties aged 20 and 25, though keen to tie the knot, know they have faced much bigger challenges.

The retired clergyman stressed that in the 1950s, gays were treated as criminals, while in the 1960s and 1970s they were lobotomised or given electric shock treatment by psychiatrists.

Against this historical backdrop, the couple have a sense of perspective about their fight to be married.

Mr Reynolds said: "Instead of being upset, we're confident the Government is going to do this.

"They've already announced a consultation, and now it's a question of how, not if, they're going to do it."

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* Retired vicar Martin Reynolds is waiting patiently for the time when the Government makes gay marriage legal
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 8, 2012
Words:758
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