¶(RNS) Bishop Gene Robinson, whose 2003 election as the first openly gay Episcopal bishop rocked Anglican Communion, has announced his divorce from his longtime partner and husband.
¶Robinson, who retired in 2013 as the Bishop of New Hampshire, and his partner of 25 years, Mark Andrew, were married in a private civil union in 2008. The announcement was made public Saturday (May 3) in a statement to the Diocese of New Hampshire.
¶“As you can imagine, this is a difficult time for us — not a decision entered into lightly or without much counseling,” Robinson wrote in a letter. “We ask for your prayers, that the love and care for each other that has characterized our relationship for a quarter century will continue in the difficult days ahead.”
¶“It is at least a small comfort to me, as a gay rights and marriage equality advocate, to know that like any marriage, gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples,” Robinson wrote.
¶Hundreds of parishes left the Episcopal Church in protest of his controversial consecration.
¶“Whenever you choose to or are called into living a public life, one of the prices you pay for that is public scrutiny, so it’s not surprising that people will pay attention to this,” said Susan Russell, an Episcopal priest at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., and past-president of the LGBT advocacy group Integrity USA.
¶Robinson, 66, is now a fellow at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
¶“My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time, and will continue to love even as we separate,” Robinson wrote in his column. “Love can endure, even if a marriage cannot.”
¶Due to changes in New Hampshire laws on same-sex marriage, Robinson became legally married to his partner when they didn’t opt out of the change in state law, according to Russell.
¶In 2012, the Episcopal Church voted to allow bishops to permit priests to bless same-sex marriages. Russell said further discussion about the church’s canon law and prayer book in relation to LBGT concerns will be held at the denomination’s convention next year.
¶Robinson went public with his sexual identity and divorce from his wife in 1986. He has since been open about the heavy toll he has faced under public scrutiny. Four years ago, he underwent treatment for alcoholism.
¶Robinson declined to speak further in an interview.
¶Critics say Robinson’s actions defied scriptural authority and thousands of years of Christian tradition. His divorce could fuel the fire, said Douglas LeBlanc, an Episcopalian who reported on Robinson’s consecration when he was an editor at Christianity Today.
¶“I’m sure there might be some conservatives who might say, ‘We told you so all along, if you depart from church teachings on homosexuality, you’re opening the door to all kinds of chaos,’” LeBlanc said. “In many ways, I think you are. But I think it’s imperative to say, the House of Bishops is not lacking on heterosexual sin.”
¶The Episcopal Church’s deliberations on same-sex marriage will likely continue regardless of Robinson’s divorce, LeBlanc said. Some, though, might seize on the news of his divorce.
¶“People will perhaps rub his nose in this for the rest of his life when he’s debating folks on the sexuality wars,” LeBlanc said. “It probably won’t shock a lot of people and will sadden a lot of people, too.”
¶Robinson is no longer the only openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. Bishop Mary D. Glasspool was consecrated in Los Angeles in 2010.
¶In the past decade, the Episcopal Church followed the decline in other mainline Protestant denominations and lost about 10 percent of its members. It had about 1.8 million members in 2012, the last year for which statistics are available.
A Bishop’s Decision to Divorce
All of us sincerely intend, when we take our wedding vows, to live up to the ideal of ‘til death do us part.’ But not all of us are able to see it through.
Recently, my partner and husband of 25-plus years and I decided to get divorced. While the details of our situation will remain appropriately private, I am seeking to be as open and honest in the midst of this decision as I have been in other dramatic moments of my life—coming out in 1986, falling in love, and accepting the challenge of becoming Christendom’s first openly gay priest to be elected a Bishop in the historic succession of bishops stretching back to the apostles.
As my marriage to Mark ends, I believe him to be one of the kindest, most generous and loyal human beings on earth. There is no way I could ever repay the debt I owe him for his standing by me through the challenges of the last decade. I will be forever grateful to him, and as I tell couples in pre-marital counseling, “Marriage is forever, and your relationship will endure—whether positively or negatively—even if the marriage formally ends.”
I know this flies in the face of the common practice of regarding one party in a divorce as the bad guy and one the good guy. The fact remains that it takes two people to make a marriage and two people to make a divorce. The reasons for ending a marriage fall on the shoulders of both parties: the missed opportunities for saying and doing the things that might have made a difference, the roads not taken, the disappointments endured but not confronted.
It is at least a small comfort to me, as a gay rights and marriage equality advocate, to know that like any marriage, gay and lesbian couples are subject to the same complications and hardships that afflict marriages between heterosexual couples. All of us sincerely intend, when we take our wedding vows, to live up to the ideal of “til death do us part.” But not all of us are able to see this through until death indeed parts us.
My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time, and will continue to love even as we separate. Love can endure, even if a marriage cannot. It will take a lot of work, a lot of grieving, and a large measure of hope to see it through. And that’s where my faith comes in.
My belief in marriage is undiminished by the reality of divorcing someone I have loved for a very long time, and will continue to love even as we separate. Love can endure, even if a marriage cannot.
We have just concluded the dramatic remembrance of the events of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter. The reason this annual remembrance of “The Passion” resonates so profoundly with me is that it is a reenactment of the grand scenario of life: bad things happen, people suffer, some friends fall away and some stay close, no one knows what comes next after what seems like death, and then God acts in a way that brings new life, new possibility and yes, resurrection.
The thing that astounds me about Jesus, as told in this Passion story, is that he keeps putting one foot in front of the other, praying that it’s in the right direction, but not knowing for sure. In the face of his enemies, he prays that God might forgive them. In the midst of his own pain, he cares for his mother Mary and the “beloved disciple” John, commending them to each other’s care. And then, even though God seems remarkably absent at the time of his death, Jesus nevertheless offers his soul back to God as a gift. To the very end, he would remain an active participant in his own destiny.
That all may seem far away from one couple ending a marriage. But I draw much comfort and guidance from this story and my faith in the One about whom it is told. While I would never remotely compare myself to Jesus, I do know that I too have to move forward without knowing whether the steps I am taking are in the right or wrong direction. I too need to take care of relationships, in the midst of my own pain. (No, it’s not all about me.) And I need to be an active participant in my own destiny.
Most importantly, I need to hold on to the belief that God will have the last word, and that word is hope. If God can bring an Easter out of that awful, long-ago Good Friday, then God can bring new life to me and Mark out of the pain of our parting company. That is my faith, even if the pain of the present moment is too excruciating to envision what it might be. Mark and I will need, and welcome, the prayers of our friends and the support of our community.
My newest, most favorite piece of bumper-sticker wisdom which I will hold onto in this in-between time is this: “In the end, all will be well. If all is not well, it is not yet the end.” Life is hard, and that is true whether you’re in your teens or in your “golden years.” Life keeps on coming at you, ready or not. And sometimes life brings pain and seemingly impossible choices. So, for me, all is not well right now; but I believe—no, actually I know—in the end, it will be.
The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, and the recently-retired IX Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire.