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Priest is defrocked over gay wedding

MOSCOW -- The Russian Orthodox Church has defrocked a priest in a provincial city for marrying two men in the country's first reported gay wedding amid intense global debate over the Christian church's attitude to homosexuality.

Russian news agency reports yesterday said the Nizhny Novgorod Orthodox diocese in central Russia had also condemned same-sex relations as a "deadly sin" and proclaimed the wedding of Denis Gogolev and Mikhail Morozov invalid.

"This blasphemous act cannot be considered a marriage under any circumstances," Interfax news agency quoted a statement from the diocese as saying.

"The Russian Orthodox Church is against single-sex marriages and, guided by the Holy Scriptures and church traditions, is condemning homosexual relations as a deadly sin."

The tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda said Father Vladimir married the couple on Sept. 1 for $450.

It published pictures of the couple, wearing traditional wedding crowns and exchanging rings.

Father Alexander from the diocese in Nizhny Novgorod, a historic city on the Volga River, confirmed the marriage had taken place.

"There's always a black sheep in the family," he said of the renegade priest.

The Russian church's controversy comes as the 70 million-member Anglican Church faces one of the biggest crises in its history over the appointment of gay bishops.

It is also torn over its attitude toward same-sex unions.

And plans to legalize gay marriages in Canada threaten to blow up in the government's face due to opposition from church and family groups.

Debate over same-sex weddings is rare in Russia, which remains deeply homophobic although homosexual relations between men, a crime in Soviet times, were legalized in 1993. Homosexuality between women was never officially outlawed.

Last year, a group of deputies in the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, proposed reintroducing prison sentences for homosexuals as part of what they said was a campaign to restore traditional moral values in Russia.

The Russian Orthodox Church, which has also called for a return to traditional values, advocates barring gays and lesbians from working as teachers or taking up senior positions in the army and prison management.

It is also opposed to euthanasia, abortion, and artificial insemination.

Father Alexander could not confirm the media reports that Father Vladimir had been defrocked but said gay weddings were not permitted.

"Of course not," he said. "A priest can be excommunicated for things like that."

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