For gay Episcopalian priests on Long Island, getting married won't just be their right. It will soon be a requirement if they are living with their partners.
The bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island has instructed all gay clergy cohabiting with their significant others to either tie the knot within nine months or move to separate quarters. The New York State law permitting same-sex marriages takes effect Sunday.
"I deem it to be honest and fair, and I do so direct and require, now that it is legal, that only married couples may live together, either in rectories or elsewhere as a clergy couple living in the midst of our faith community," the Right Rev. Lawrence C. Provenzano said in a statement published on the diocese's website.
In an interview, Provenzano said he issued the policy largely because of consistency -- heterosexual ministers are not permitted to live with unmarried partners either. He estimated that "several dozen" of the 305 clergy in the diocese, which includes Brooklyn, Queens, Nassau and Suffolk, will be affected by his policy.
No other Episcopal diocese in states with same-gender marriage has set an explicit deadline for gay clergy to marry their live-in partners.
"It really is important that we be clear in terms of trying to create some order out of chaos," Provenzano said.
One gay Episcopalian minister, the Rev. Christopher Hofer of the Episcopal Church of St. Jude in Wantagh, said he plans a "big" wedding in August in his parish with his partner of 17 years, Kerry Brady. They live in the church rectory.
"Now that the state is recognizing civil marriage, we as priests, perhaps deacons too, who are in committed relationships, have a choice: We either live what we preach, to become civilly married, or we choose to live apart," Hofer told The Associated Press.
Provenzano said ministers would not be punished if they did not adhere to the policy by the end of the nine-month period, but he would at that point call them in to talk about it.
Groups including the Roman Catholic Church, Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals have come out strongly against the same-sex marriage law, and Provenzano said he is receiving some criticism for his pro-same-sex-marriage stance. He has also given his priests the blessing to be the clergy witness at such ceremonies.
The Episcopal Church itself is not entirely unified on the issue, with some dioceses in New York State saying they would not allow local ministers to witness same sex marriages.
"I am a bit stunned by the reaction of some who have said this is going to destroy married life or this is somehow chipping away at the foundation of our societal life," Provenzano said. "Having more people live in committed relationships can only be strengthening the foundation of our life together."