LONDON — A prominent Anglican cleric and gay rights campaigner known for contentious gestures has urged believers to pray for Prince George — age 4, and third in line to the throne — to find the love "of a fine young gentleman" when he grows up so as to advance the cause of same-sex marriage in church.
Coming just days after Prince Harry — George’s uncle, and fifth in line — announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, a divorced American actress, the suggestion by the Very Rev. Kelvin Holdsworth seemed to illuminate once more the role of royal romance in Britain’s imagination and conversation, especially when it collides with tradition.
Prince Harry and Markle have said they will marry in May at St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, west of London. But it is only since 2002 that the Church of England has permitted church marriages for divorced people, "in exceptional circumstances" at the discretion of parish priests. The church teaching is that marriage is for life.
While same-sex marriage is permitted by law in most of Britain, the Church of England says on its website, "it remains the case that it is not legally possible for same-sex couples to marry" in its churches.
Holdsworth, the provost of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow, belongs to the Scottish Episcopal Church, a separate province of the Anglican Communion that voted in June to let its priests solemnize same-sex marriages.
In his campaign to expand on that change, Holdsworth wrote in a blog post on Thursday that believers could "pray in the privacy of their hearts (or in public if they dare) for the Lord to bless Prince George with a love, when he grows up, of a fine young gentleman." Prince George is the elder child of Prince William and the former Catherine Middleton, now called the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
"A royal wedding might sort things out remarkably easily, though we might have to wait 25 years for that to happen," Holdsworth wrote. "Who knows whether that might be sooner than things might work out by other means."
His suggestion was widely reported in the British media on Friday, though the blog on which he made it seemed inaccessible Friday morning.
Holdsworth caused a frisson among some of the faithful in January when he permitted a reading from the Quran during a service that included a rebuttal of the Christian belief that Jesus was the son of God.
His latest comments also drew the outrage of more traditional clerics. The Rev. Gavin Ashenden, a former royal chaplain, called the comments unchristian.
"To pray for Prince George to grow up in that way" is to "pray in a way that would disable and undermine his constitutional and personal role," he told Christian Today, an online news provider, particularly when part of the expectation that the prince would inherit would be "to produce a biological heir with a woman he loves."
"It is an unkind and destabilizing prayer," Ashenden continued. "It is the theological equivalent of the curse of the wicked fairy in one of the fairy tales."
There was no immediate comment from the royal family. Prince Harry and Markle arrived in Nottingham, England, on Friday for their first official visit together ? to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and youth violence.