Father Rob Whalley and Father John Davis celebrate their marriage (Supplied: Father John Davis and Father Rob Whalley)
It’s a unique love story. Two gay Anglican priests from opposite sides of the world who meet and fall in love.
- In August, the Wangaratta Anglican Diocese voted in August to bless same-sex marriages
- Now, a scheduled blessing of the marriage of two priests has been postponed due to a legal challenge
- The matter was referred to the Appellate Tribunal — the church’s highest ecclesiastical court
Father John Davis and Father Rob Whalley met two decades ago in California.
Father Whalley said it was love at first sight.
“I looked at him and I thought, I could be with this guy for a long time, we actually see the world in much the same way,” he told 7.30.
“I said to myself, ‘There’s no future in it at all. This is an absolutely global impossibility. You’re from Australia. I’m from California.’ And he looked at me at that moment and said, ‘I love you’.
“And I said, ‘Well, there is that’.”
On Tuesday, exactly 20 years from the day they first locked eyes, they tied the knot in a small civil ceremony in Melbourne.
They had hoped to have their matrimonial union blessed this weekend at a small country church service, but now a major church legal challenge is standing in their way, with the matter referred to the church’s Appellate Tribunal.
Church tribunal to rule on blessing of same sex marriages
Father John Davis and Father Rob Whalley show off their wedding rings. (Supplied: Father Rob Whalley and Father John Davis)
The Wangaratta Anglican Diocese voted in August to bless same-sex marriages, two years after Australia legalised the unions.
The ceremony for Father Davis and Father Whalley was to have been be led by Wangaratta Bishop John Parkes, who wanted to bless the marriage of the priests before he retires later this year.
But the matter has now been referred to the church’s Appellate Tribunal, which is the highest ecclesiastical court.
Bishop Parkes is a member of the Appellate Tribunal, but will not take part in relation to this matter.
The tribunal will consider whether the blessings of persons married under civil law in church compromises the Anglican Church’s constitution.
The Anglican Primate of Australia, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier, has asked that the Wangaratta synod does not conduct any blessings until a decision has been made by the tribunal.
“The convention is we respect the institution of the Church,” Bishop Parkes said.
“The Primate has asked and we will honour his requests.
“Although, we won’t wait forever.
“My advice is that this is legitimate and lawful, and unless the Appellate Tribunal finds that it isn’t, then what we have at the moment is a delay rather than a backtrack.”
Robert Whalley and John Davis were married this week, and hope to have their marriage blessed by the church. (Photo: Jamie Kronborg)
Bishop Parkes said that the synod will not proceed with the blessing if the Church finds it doesn’t adhere to church law.
“Everything we’ve done has been in the open and fully advising people of our intention, we’re not sneaking around with this,” he said.
“In the end, the people who suffer again are LGBTQI people, and that’s not good enough.”
Bishop Parkes expects the issue will create debate in the church as it is referred to a directions hearing.
“No doubt many around the church will want to seek the right to intervene and put an argument, some in favour and some not,” he said.
Initially Father Whalley and Father Davis were careful about not disclosing their relationship in the parish. (Supplied: Father John Davis and Father Rob Whalley)
After settling in northern Victoria, Father Davis and Father Whalley lived together, but as housemates.
Father Whalley said he knew their relationship could endanger his partner’s career within the church.
“I was watching John make announcements as the Vicar of the parish, and I was aware that a member of the congregation was watching me very carefully,” he said.
“And at that point, I decided to put on a very neutral expression, to look like I wasn’t quite detached but I wasn’t attached to anything that was going on.
“I didn’t want to provide fuel for any kind of gossip about our relationship because the plain truth was, too much discussion could have lost John his job.”
In 2017 when marriage equality became law in Australia, Father Davis and Father Whalley began to make plans to marry.
Both in their 70s, they felt they didn’t have time to wait.
“If you’re proposing to stay with someone for the rest of your days, in good times and in bad, why not say so?” Father Davis said.
“And why not say so in the company of friends who love you and encourage you in whatever time we’ve got left?”
The couple also began quietly agitating for change within their local church community.
Same sex marriage ‘not in accordance with church law’: Archbishop
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies opposes the Wangaratta synod’s decision. (ABC News)
Last month, the two priests, along with Bishop Parkes, were successful in obtaining a majority vote to allow the blessing of civil unions at the synod of the Diocese of Wangaratta.
The regulation allows clergy to conduct a blessing on members of the LGBTIQ+ community if they wish to.
It’s a move that’s angered some within the church.
Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies said he opposes Wangaratta synod’s decision completely.
“I don’t approve of that. Because the way it’s constructed is blessing marriages under the Marriage Act — which are legal in this country, of course, I recognise that — but in the church, we recognise holy matrimony,” he told 7.30.
“Marriage between two men or two women is not in accordance with God’s word, nor in accordance with church law.”
Archbishop Davies said he is pleased the matter has been referred to the church’s Appellate Tribunal, which is the highest ecclesiastical court.
“It consists of three bishops, and four lawyers or judges,” he said.
“And they will make a determination on questions referred to them by the primate. So we’ll wait the outcome of that.”
‘Huge significance for every diocese across the country’
Father Whalley and Father Davis are happy to be the test case for same sex marriage blessings. (Supplied: Father John Davis and Father Rob Whalley)
Father Whalley and Father Davis are content to wait for the Appellate Tribunal’s decision and their church blessing.
But Father Davis pointed out that around 70 per cent of marriages are now conducted outside churches.
“It’s a pastoral response to a present reality,” he said.
“It would simply mean that any priest in the diocese will be able to offer this blessing in their own church.”
Father Whalley has long been saddened that, as a priest, he was unable to bless all couples in love.
“One of the joys of being a priest is baptising babies, praying for the sick and the dying, it’s being with people in their marriage, it’s being with people going through breakthroughs or breakdowns or whatever,” he said.
“The notable omission is when two men or two women realise that they’re in love and they want it to be forever — that they can’t go further on that. It’s an obscenity.”
Father Davis is more than happy to serve as a test case and bear this burden for all same-sex couples in Australia.
“If the tribunal does come together and say there’s nothing to see here, then this will be something of huge significance to every diocese across the country,” he said.
“It’s a privilege, it’s an honour. And it’s important.”