Retired rector in civil partnership vow

A CHURCH of England priest today becomes one of the first clergymen in the country to publicly declare his feelings for his gay partner during a civil partnership ceremony.

By John Howard

A CHURCH of England priest today becomes one of the first clergymen in the country to publicly declare his feelings for his gay partner during a civil partnership ceremony.

Father Leslie Hipkins, 71, who was rector in the Cratfield benefice near Halesworth for 11 years before retiring, will take part in the ceremony - dubbed a “gay wedding” - with his partner Brian Baldwin.

The couple have been together for 37 years, after meeting at a London dinner party, and say they have the support of senior Church leaders in the county.

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Risking the wrath of evangelical Christians, the Rt Rev Richard Lewis, bishop of the St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Diocese, has given his support to civil partnerships and said the new legislation “corrected an injustice” to gay people.

Bishop Richard, who has been serving as a patron of Changing Attitude, a worldwide group working for gay and lesbian affirmation with the Anglican communion, said: “The Church needs gay people if it is to understand and relate to the world at large. The civil partnership legislation corrects an injustice.

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“The use of language is important. We should be clear this is not a marriage and most gay people I know would also say that it is not terribly helpful.

“Couples enter a civil partnership for all kinds of reasons and using the word like marriage does not help, as it assumes it is a sexual relationship. People can be in a committed, loving relationship and not a sexual one.

“I support the civil partnership because it affirms a human relationship and gives rights in terms of next of kin, financially.

“The issue that upsets a number of people is coming to terms with the fact that, for many gay people, entering into civil partnerships is about a long-term committed and loving relationship.

“Whether people find that understandable or acceptable actually is their problem, although people may be disturbed and upset. I understand that.''

Father Hipkins is aware that his decision to so publicly reveal his feelings for his gay partner will shock some Christians, but said civil partnerships are now enshrined in law and backed by parliament.

He said: “All human souls are equal in the eyes of God, regardless of their sexuality. I spoke to the archdeacon Geoffrey Arrand informally, and he said the bishop would have no problem with this.

“I have never struggled with this as a priest, and I very firmly do not believe the Bible can be taken literally.

“On the whole, I dislike bigotry and I feel sorry for those who are guilty of bigotry and do not think they deserve much time for their opinions. I did not run around saying I was gay. As a priest I was purely professional, and sexuality never came into it.''

Mr Baldwin, who lives with the priest at their £600,000 early 16th century farmhouse near Halesworth, is himself a Christian.

But he has stopped worshipping after receiving hostility to their relationship from some worshippers.

Mr Baldwin, 70, a retired manager who worked in education, said: “Leslie had four churches to care for when he was a priest locally and several people at one of his churches were very anti and did not like it at all. That experience put me off. I am a Christian, but I no longer attend church.''

And last night the news was met with scorn by some in religious circles. Brian Langston, pastor of the Needham Market Evangelical Church, said: “This would not have been tolerated five years ago.

“We are not homophobic, but this is sinful. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus himself said that the scriptures cannot be broken, I think this is just showing up who believes in the Bible, and who does not.''

Father Hipkins and Mr Baldwin will take part in their civil partnership ceremony at Lowestoft's registry office today.

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