When I read the headline “Gay vicar from Kilburn to defy church leaders by marrying atheist partner,” I was fairly certain that it was the atheism of the partner in question that was cause for concern among the church leaders. Though I find suspicions about the lacking moral character of atheists upsetting, I do think it would be well within the rights of a church to refuse a religious wedding to an atheist who would presumably not identify marriage as sacramental, a rather important factor in being allowed a church wedding.
But it seems that the intended nuptials of Fr. Andrew Cain and his partner of 14 years, Stephen Foreshew has precious little to do with the Foreshew’s lack of belief and only to do with his gender. Leaders advising against the marriage wrote in a statement, “Getting married to someone of the same sex would clearly be at variance with the teaching of the church.” I am more familiar with the teachings of American denominations than I am the Church of England but I think it’s safe to assume that church teaching acknowledges, I don’t know, the existence of God?
The leadership had an easy out in denouncing Fr. Cain’s wedding as being at odds with the institution of what marriage ought to mean to clergy (representative of the mystical union between Christ and his church, instituted by God, to name a few) and they went with the tired, “One man, one woman” malarkey that’s been disproven with viral memes about what constitutes biblical marriage since the dawn of the infographic.
It wouldn’t be an especially progressive or generous denouncement but it would certainly be less theologically hollow than the homophobic excuse. Perhaps in a country where 25% of people claim no religion at all, they can’t stomach the prospect of losing that much venue revenue and relevance among atheists who wish to marry there. Denying a committed clergyman the opportunity to marry his partner is far less costly, if not especially generous or Christ-like.