Ex-Tory Chair: Govt should protect gay vicars who marry from Church sacking

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Former Health Secretary Lord Fowler says the government should consider intervening to stop the Church of England sacking gay vicars who marry.

Yesterday, Lord Fowler raised the case in the House of Lords of Jeremy Pemberton, who in June had his licence to preach revoked after marrying his partner.

Canon Pemberton, a hospital chaplain, was the first member of the clergy to enter into a same-sex marriage, when he wed his partner Laurence Cunnington in April.

Lord Fowler, a former Chairman of the Conservative Party, said: “Given that there are other clergymen at similar risk, will the minister as a matter of good will look at the position here and see if there is anything that could be done to help reconcile the difficulties?”

The government’s Women and Equalities spokesperson, Baroness Northover, replied it was a matter for the Church of England.

She told Lord Fowler: “My noble friend will know that the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill sought to protect the position of religious organisations and that this is a matter for the Church of England. We hear what he says, and it is worth also bearing in mind that things can evolve. For example, it is good that we should soon see women bishops.”

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Right Reverend Steven Croft, said the Church would be holding “a two-year process of structured conversations to explore the changing attitudes to human sexuality and their implications for the life of the Church and its disciplines”.

Baroness Northover was also asked by the Conservative peer Lord Ullswater on whether civil partnerships would eventually be extended to heterosexual couples – a measure which the government has so far refused to sanction.

She replied: “So there is something to be said for looking at what people want – whether they want civil partnerships to be open to heterosexuals, so that there is equality, or whether people will stop opting for civil partnerships if equal marriage is available.”

The Church of England reaffirmed its opposition to equal marriage earlier this summer in response to coverage of PinkNews’ exclusive interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby.