Nicky Morgan: Church of England is wrong to force gay clergy to remain celibate

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Writing for PinkNews, former Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan reflects on her time in the role – and what inequalities she hopes are tackled in future.

Although I’m usually billed in interviews or articles as being a former Education Secretary I was actually in the Cabinet as Minister for Women for longer, first combining it with my ministerial post in the Treasury and then taking over the Equalities brief at the same time as the Education role in July 2014.

I am pleased the new Prime Minister kept both briefs together and I know Justine will relish both roles. They fit together extremely well given much of the focus of the Government Equalities Office is about getting girls to think about following non-traditional careers in a bid to tackle the underlying causes of the gender pay gap and to promote a culture of tolerance and respect in our schools which enabled me to fund work on tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying.

One of the privileges of holding ministerial office is being able to learn lots about an area of policy and to meet those who know a great deal and who want to share their experiences with you.

And so it was with my Equalities role. I didn’t have the greatest start having voted against allowing same-sex marriages in February 2013. By the time of my appointment in 2014 I already knew that I had made a mistake in doing so – becoming a Minister enabled me to say so clearly, swiftly and publicly, including at the PinkNews Awards in 2014, I believe that this helped other MPs to do the same.

Two events made me realise just how much I’d learnt in my role – one before I was fired and one after.

The first was during May of this year, when I travelled to Japan for the G7 Education Summit. Frankly, it was a joy to escape the depressing EU Referendum campaign for a few days.

At the summit I was able to discuss various aspects of education policy with my counterparts from Japan, France, Canada, Italy and representatives of the US, Germany, EU, UNESCO and the OECD. And one of the things I was able to secure in the final declaration was a commitment that our education systems should “…recognize the critical need to address exclusion and/or marginalization, disparities and inequalities, to which children and young people in difficult situations (e.g., migrants and refugees, socially and economically disadvantaged children, students with special needs, abused and bullied children, students who tend to be absent from school, youths who are not in education, employment and training, and children who are suffering discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity) are more likely to be exposed. We, thus, will do our utmost to ensure inclusive and equitable learning opportunities and outcomes to all young people, regardless of their background or circumstance, so that they develop a sense of well-being and acquire the knowledge and skills needed for life and work. In this context, we commit to realizing educational environments in which individuality and diversity are valued and every child and youth can make the most of their potential and strengths.”

It was one example where one person holding both ministerial roles meant I could raise equalities issues on the international stage without hesitation.

And, second, the post July 2016 event, when I knew just how far my own views had changed was the recent news item about the Bishop of Grantham who is in a same-sex relationship, but is forced by the rules of the Church of England, to remain celibate. As a member of the Church of England and as a former Equalities Minister, this denial of a full relationship seemed immediately wrong and outdated to me.

Why on earth in the modern era do we ask a Bishop (or anyone else) not to be able to enjoy the same full relationship with his or her partner that the rest of us are able to enjoy?

When I look back at my time in office, my most memorable meeting from my time as Equalities Minister was a meeting I held with my Russian counterpart in London. Never likely to be easy we were managing to find some common ground on education issues. However, I took my chance just before the meeting finished to challenge him on Russia’s equality record. Let’s just say the temperature in the room dropped and the Russian Minister and his group departed rapidly. But I felt it was important to have made the point.

Having legislated for same-sex marriage the Cameron Conservative Government was preparing to tackle the next equalities issue. Clearly the rights of trans people is something many involved in equalities work are also having to work out how to address. I know that the right language and support haven’t come easily even to those heavily involved in the equalities arena. But it is important that we all turn our attention fully to this.

One of my final acts as Equalities Minister was to publish the Government’s response to the Women & Equalities Select Committee report on transgender equality. I finally got it published 7 days before I left the Department after months of delay due to the Referendum campaign and subsequent abrupt stop to Government business caused by the vote and change in leadership.

Whilst not perfect I hope it signalled a real intent to tackle many of the issues identified by those who gave evidence to the Committee. The response included a commitment to look at the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and I know that Caroline Dinenage will take the review seriously and pursue it fully. I was touched to receive a letter recently from someone who said she was a trans person and said “I truly believe that the issues that are faced by trans people are addressed more fully and sensitively in the UK than any other country in the world, and this is purely down to the effort of you and your team in government.”

In terms of issues I’d have liked more time to address – fully LGBT inclusive PSHE lessons which don’t just dwell on sex but really do the relationship bits properly and discrimination in our workplaces remain outstanding items for me.

Finally, I’d like to thank all those, including many PinkNews readers for their generosity to me during my time as Equalities Minister. I know I wouldn’t have been their first choice to be Minister but I hope we made some progress and I certainly met many wonderful people for which I am eternally grateful.

Rt Hon Nicky Morgan MP served as Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities from July 2014 until July 2016