The next generation of Church of England clergy will accept gay relationships and equal marriage, and may even seek a reversal of the "quadruple lock" that bans the same-sex couples getting married this weekend from consecrating their vows in front of the altar, an influential vicar has said.
From midnight tonight, gay Christians can get married, but not in their church. For some, this is still no equality. Church of England clergy cannot marry same-sex couples. And according to new rules laid down by the church just weeks ago, gay clergy cannot marry.
This summer, for Father Andrew Cain's marriage, the church bells will ring, his congregants and other local clergy will turn out in their finest frocks, to celebrate with cake and champagne in the vicarage garden. But no wedding will take place inside the church.
It is a marriage that Father Andrew, the vicar of St Mary with All Souls, Kilburn and St James West Hampstead, has been warned could cost him his career.
The 50-year-old will marry his Australian partner of 14 years, Stephen Foreshew, a few weeks after the new equal marriage legislation passes into law. The couple must marry in a registry office. Only afterwards will they celebrate at church.
Father Andrew Cain and his husband-to-be Stephen Foreshew
In what Father Andrew called the "Valentine's Day massacre", the C of E House of Bishops sent a letter which reiterated its ban on blessings for same-sex unions, and banned same-sex marriage for clergy, or for anyone seeking to be ordained. It was the day that Father Andrew and Foreshew got engaged.
"I tweeted and Facebooked and told everyone 'yay, we got engaged'. Equal marriage was three weeks away and then the bishops did this. I am still so shocked at the tone of the letter, and the implications for people like me.
"All those bishops who signed that letter, they know faithful, hard-working, and diligent gay and lesbian clergy. They know lay Christian men and women who are gay. It's extraordinary that they did not stop and think about the emotional impact. It is extremely harsh on people."
The pair have been together 14 years, and eight years ago, they arranged a party and blessing ceremony with a priest, even before civil partnerships were lawful. Only after that did Foreshew move into the vicarage But they waited for equal marriage to make it "official".
"For us, civil partnerships felt second best, it was a grudging thing, they gave us something different," Father Andrew said.
The letter from the bishops, which Father Andrew said many who signed it have now admitted was misjudged, has been hard on the couple.
"Stephen is an IT director and he does not go to Church, he is not a practising Christian," said Father Andrew. "For him, this is an equality issue. And in the world he works in, it would be utterly unacceptable for an organisation to behave in this way. And that's how he sees this, unacceptable prejudice."
The pair held a blessing ceremony for their relationship eight years ago
It is one of the first times they have ever encountered any prejudice because of their relationship, from congregants. There's been one straight priest in this parish in 40 years. Being gay in north west London is a complete non issue."
Since speaking out on the subject, bishops have contacted Father Andrew to express support on Twitter. Strangers, he said, now come out of shops to congratulate him.
The warm support and love he has felt from his local community has made him more determined to defy the ban on same-sex marriage for clergy.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has already signaled that the Church of England will mount no more resistance to gay marriage.
Privately, it is believed many of the bishops who signed that now infamous letter forbidding the marriage of gay clergy have since regretted, at the very least, the tone of the diktat, and have conveyed they would not have written such a letter in a personal capacity.
"I think the church has reacted by fully accepting that it's the law, and should react on Saturday by continuing to demonstrate in word and action, the love of Christ for every human being," Justin Welby told the Guardian.
Forbidding same-sex weddings in the Church of England is "untenable", according to Father Andrew. "This is the state church. It is deeply out of step with the culture in which it lives.
"These attitudes will fade away, in 20 years time it'll be in the people who are now aged 20-50 who will dominate. My generation is much more liberal on these issues.
"Even around 27% of conservative evangelicals under 30 say they see nothing wrong with equal marriage.
"Gay clergy will get married, gay Christian couples will get married, and the church will do what it has always done which is celebrate pastorally with their congregants."
Unpicking the so-called "quadruple lock" of legislation which makes marriage in a church or with a Church of England priest impossible in law is much more difficult. "The General Synod would have to go cap in hand to Parliament and ask them to reverse the law. And that would be excruciatingly difficult. That may be many, many years away."