Comment: The Church of England must stop its persecution of gay priests

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The Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, Ed Fordham, writes for on his dismay at the latest attempts by the Church of England to suppress equality among its own ranks.

Today the Bishops of the Church of England begin their inquisition of their clergy regarding the implementation of the Marriage (Same Sex) Couples Act. Individual clergy who wish to exercise their rights under the law and have a civil marriage are being summoned one-by-one to see, discuss and submit to their Bishop and be excluded from the right to marry their partner.

You might think this was a little odd, given that the provisions of the Act specifically excludes the Church of England from conducting same-sex marriages, but the House of Bishops have decided to go one further and have decreed that their own clergy should not be allowed to marry.

Let’s be very clear for the avoidance of doubt:

You can be gay

You can take communion

You can be in same-sex relationship

You can do all of those three and be an ordained priest

However, in a designation that can only be described as especially cruel you cannot be a priest in an active sexual relationship, if you are gay. So for those clergy who have gone through this torture and examination of conscience they have now imposed a new additional sanction, you cannot have a civil marriage to someone of the same sex, as you are allowed to under the law of England and Wales.

I find this all very odd and unusual and ludicrously tortured. In fact it is based on prejudice, discrimination and rank hypocrisy.

It is of course fine to be straight, take communion, be a priest and get married – so what is it about gays that the Church is so worried about?

Frankly I am not sure I have the basic simple energy to undertake such a basic argument for equality with the Church. And to an extent, who cares what an institution such as the Church of England does in its own structures. But as with all-male clubs, as with discrimination based on race, colour, creed – so discrimination based on sexuality is just plain wrong – and in this instance it flies in the face of the law of the land.

So I say to the Church of England – be careful what you wish for. You have 26 seats in the House of Lords; you are currently the established Church in England. If your inquisition which started today lays one finger on one priest who is seeking to have exercise their rights under the law of the land (for which you are the established church) then reflect and think about what may befall you.

Let’s spell it out: many of you, many of your clergy, hide their sexuality. This is not a process of discovery through adolescence as you come to terms with your growing emotions. You are a church of 600 years, established then but with a heritage reaching back even further – you know that there have been same-sex relationships within the clergy since time immemorial. This has been a process where hypocrisy has been allowed to thrive – allowing you as a church to preach one way and conduct yourselves another in private.

Do not, undertake an inquisition that seeks to punish those who have no such charge of hypocrisy and stand proud as they are allowed to under the law of the land.

But in this instance – if you implement your inquisition to exercise any kind of sanction upon the LGBT+ community, then I for one will consider you, the established church and all your seats in the House of Lords, fair game in a battle between prejudice and equality.

As I say you have a long heritage, and that should teach you on which side of history you have too often found yourselves, don’t make that mistake today.

Archbishop of Canterbury – call off your Bishops, stop the appointments requiring your clergy to submit to their Bishop, and wise up to the new expectation of society, your flock and indeed of your communion. Please, for all our sakes.

Ed Fordham is Chair of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats.