Rev. V. Gene Robinson Does Times Talk

By Jonathan Vatner

Originally published on Advocate.com June 17 2009 12:00 AM ET

On Monday, June 15, at about 6:30 p.m., the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, took the stage at the LGBT Community Center in New York City in his bishop's purple shirt, gold cross, and -- perhaps not surprisingly -- polka-dot socks. He sat before a packed house of multi-denominational Christians. His interviewer, New York Times religion correspondent Laurie Goodstein, who is Jewish, had written about his career since his history-making consecration in 2003.

Almost six years later, he is still the only openly gay bishop, despite efforts to convince closeted bishops to join him. "I would never out any of them," he said. "But there are days when I think it's pretty lonely out there."

And though Robinson was not exactly sanguine about the prospects for imminent LGBT equality in the Episcopal Church, he felt that marriage equality in the United States was "taking on an air of inevitability." He added, "Even the conservatives know it's going to happen; it's just a matter of when."

The conversation, organized by TimesTalks, took place less than two weeks after New Hampshire legalized same-sex marriage, thanks in large part to Robinson's continuing efforts to work with religious groups and the right wing.

"I testified about separating the legal right from the religious rite," said Robinson. "We have gotten so confused in this country where the civil act and the religious act begin and end, because we have deputized the clergy to act for the state. The New Hampshire law says that no religious unit will have to perform a ceremony it doesn't want to. I think it's a strategy that's going to work in a lot more places."

But to secure victory in other states -- California, for example -- Robinson urged gay groups to work together with mainline religious groups who are sympathetic to LGBT people but who are not actively gunning for marriage equality.

"It's understandable that LGBT groups would be skeptical of religious groups," he said, "but we've got to get over that."

Robinson, who advised Obama during his campaign and gave the invocation to open the inauguration festivities (and was bitterly censured by religious groups for omitting any reference to Jesus Christ, in a spirit of inclusion), stated his belief that the president opposes the Defense of Marriage Act and will come out against it when the time is right. He was also confident that Obama would get rid of "don't ask, don't tell." His only complaint was that the president wasn't acting fast enough.

"We've been told so many times that he's got a lot on his plate," Robinson said. "But we elected him because he could do more than one thing at a time."

He also hinted at a promising piece of insider knowledge from the Obama camp. "I think we'll hear some things over the coming days and weeks that will please our community," he said -- though apparently his efforts toward inclusion ended there: When Goodstein pressed him for details, he only replied, "Wouldn't you like to know!"