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Gay Episcopal bishop says civil and religious marriage should be separate

April 19, 2009 |  3:06 pm

The first openly gay Episcopal bishop told a Studio City gathering today that the church should begin mending divisions over the issue of same-sex marriage by getting out of the civil marriage business altogether.

During a visit to St. Michael & All Angels Church this morning, Bishop V. Eugene Robinson said he favored the system used in France and other parts of Europe in which civil marriage -- performed by government officials -- is completely separate from religious vows. In the U.S., the civil and religious ceremonies are often combined with the cleric signing the government marriage license.

"In this country, it has become very confusing about where the civil action begins and ends and where the religious action begins and ends, because we have asked clergy to be agents of the state," said Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire.

Robinson, whose election six years ago was decried by some in the Episcopal church and praised by others, supports gay marriage and had his own civil commitment ceremony with his long-time partner blessed in the church last summer. He said that "untangling" the roles of clergy and government would focus discussion of same-sex marriage on civil rights rather than religion.

"The church is infringing on the secular society and trying to enforce its beliefs onto the entire culture," he said. "If we can get these two things separated, we can assure every religious group, no matter how conservative, that they will never have to bless these marriages."

"I think we could actually gain some support from our detractors if we could make this separation clear," he said.

Robinson visited the Studio City church while in Los Angeles to receive an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

-- Harriet Ryan