Bishop says Church of England should lose exemption from discrimination laws

The Bishop of Buckingham has called for the Church of England to be stripped of an exemption in equality laws that allow it to openly discriminate against gay people.

The Equality Act, signed in 2010, consolidated laws that outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and other protected characteristics, but at the same time handed a broad opt-out to the Church.

The exemption from discrimination laws has been deployed by the church on a number of occasions, most notably after a hospital chaplain was sacked for getting married to his same-sex partner.

But at the same time the church has threatened to bring legal action under the Equality Act itself, threatening a lawsuit under the Equality Act after a cinema chain declined to air an advertising chain.

Speaking to The Times this week, a senior bishop said that the Church should lose its broad opt-out from the rules.

Asked if it the law should be changed, the Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson said: “Yes.”

Dr Wilson said: “The Equality Act is used as an accountability standard in modern Britain.

“It describes how we understand public accountability in every institution except the church. That does seem quite extraordinary.”

He added: “If the church were far more observant of the Equality Act, then deep structures of abuse, homophobia and sexism would not be embedded in the church in the way they are.”

“It’s in Romans 13.”

The Bible passage states, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

In 2015, gay hospital chaplain Jeremy Pemberton filed an Equality Act claim against the Church, after he was sacked for getting married to his same-sex partner.

The chaplain, who had been employed in NHS hospitals, was denied a ‘permission to officiate’ which prevented him from taking up a new role.

However his case was dismissed by a tribunal, after the Church argued it was protected by religious exemptions in the 2010 Equality Act.

Just weeks after successfully arguing that it is exempt from the law, the Church threatened to bring its own case under the Equality Act in a row over cinema advertising.

Canon Pemberton said at the time that he was “shocked” the Church could be “so hypocritical”, adding: “They will find out that you can’t have your cake and eat it.”

One Twitter user wrote: “Threatening Equality Act use after being exempt from it over [Jeremy Pemberton] is typical bullying behaviour.”

The Church was plunged into another row over LGBT rights last week.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby with the Queen (Photo by Anthony Devlin – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The global Anglican Communion, which is headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, handed out a controversial ‘punishment’ to the Scottish Episcopal Church for allowing same-sex unions.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby reportedly assured hardline bishops, many of whom lead anti-gay churches that support homophobic laws in their home countries, that he would “personally” oversee the sanctions for the Scottish church.

He said: “It’s been left in my hands to follow through and it will be followed through.”