A SENIOR Church of Ireland clergyman whose disclosure of his civil partnership has rocked the church was a curate in Lisburn over 20 years ago, it has emerged.
The Very Rev Tom Gordon, who is originally from Portadown, served at St Mark's, Ballymacash for a time from 1989.
He revealed recently that he had entered a ground-breaking gay union with his partner of 20 years, New Zealander Mark Duley in a ceremony which took place at a registry office on July 29.
The Very Rev Gordon, who is Dean of Leighlin Cathedral in Co Carlow, confirmed that he had formalised the relationship under new laws introduced in the Republic earlier this year.
It is believed to be the first gay union involving a serving Church of Ireland cleric. Dean Gordon, 53, who became curate at St Mark's in 1989 and who has been living in the Republic since 1991, said:
"Now that the law in the south enables same-sex partnerships, we felt it was a normal milestone to go through a civil ceremony.
"We do not regard this as a marriage, but a legal partnership where our rights are protected withm the law. It's a case of legal entitlement between two partners in aspects like taxes, pensions and inheritance."
He added that a Church of Ireland bishop knew and approved of his decision to enter a civil partnership.
The Rev Gordon said the Rt Rev Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel and Ossuary, was aware he was to enter a civil partnership when the bishop asked him to become a dean last year.
He added that it would have been widely known in the Church of Ireland that he had been in a relationship with his partner for 20 years, after the time he left Lisburn.
It was reported at the weekend that several evangelical Church of Ireland churches are to write to their bishops about the issue amid threats of a financial backlash from congregations which oppose the move.
Those within the church who support the right of clergy to enter civil partnerships have welcomed the development and called for the church to move further by allowing such couples to receive a church blessing for their relationship.
But those who describe themselves as "orthodox" and "evangelical", particularly in Northern Ireland, have strenuously opposed the move, which they argue is "provocative" as the church has never discussed whether it would accept clergy in civil partnerships. It is understood that the church's bishops have planned several 'away days' next month to discuss the issue.
The Very Rev Tom Gordon.