LEWISTON — Five years after he became the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay, non-celibate bishop, V. Gene Robinson still receives death threats.

“I’ve had lots,” Robinson said. On the day he became a bishop, he had to wear a bulletproof vest beneath his clothes. A few weeks ago, Vermont State Police arrested a man who planned to kill Robinson with a sawed-off shotgun.

“All think this will go away if I go away,” the 62-year-old grandfather told a group Thursday at Bates College. He refuses to hide. Before his speech arguing for the rights of gays to marry, he greeted people in the aisle of the school chapel, shaking hands and smiling.

He refuses to bend to hatred or what he calls, “heterosexualism.”

It’s a word he favors over homophobia, something that too many people easily dismiss. Rather than fear of gays, too many people have combined prejudice and power to push gays out of society, he said.

“In large and small ways, the culture is set up to say, ‘You don’t measure up,'” Robinson said.

One of those ways is marriage, he said.

“Britney Spears gets drunk and gets married and gets all these rights just like that,” he said, snapping his fingers. Yet, Robinson and his partner of 21 years, Mark Andrew, are still waiting for their civil union to be considered a marriage.

On Jan. 1, when New Hampshire’s new marital law takes effect, they will become spouses.

It’s been a long time coming for the father of two grown girls who divorced in the 1980s and chose to come out publicly. He has fought AIDS in the United States and Africa and has challenged investors to use their money in socially conscious ways. In January, he accepted an invitation from President Barack Obama to give the invocation at an inaugural ceremony on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

Robinson believes the gay-lesbian-transgender cause is maturing. And religion has a place in the discussion, he said, not only to guide people spiritually but to remind people of the separation of church and state, something that has been blurred by Christian conservatives.

“We need to take the Bible back from the religious right, which has been taking Christianity hostage all these years,” he said.

If some folks disagree, that’s all right. People who think the church is all about peace and quiet are missing something. The church has always been fighting about something, he said.

“If you’re trying to have a relationship with God, seriously, you’re going to be trying to figure things out,” he said.

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The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and the first openly gay, non-celibate bishop in a major Christian denomination, speaks at the Bates College Chapel in Lewiston on Thursday.

The Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire and the first openly gay, non-celibate bishop in a major Christian denomination, speaks at the Bates College Chapel on Thursday.


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