Bishop says Church of England should lose right to discriminate against gay people

A second Church of England bishop has called for the institution to lose a legal right to discriminate against gay people.

The Church is legally exempt from the 2010 Equality Act’s anti-discrimination protections, which bans other bodies from discriminating based on a range of protected characteristics including ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘gender reassignment.’

The opt-out was intended to allow the Church to selectively hire Christians without legal impediment, but it has recently been deployed by the Church to quash a discrimination case brought by a gay hospital chaplain.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton took legal action when the Church revoked his ‘permission to officiate’ as punishment for marrying his long-time partner, effectively sacking him from his NHS hospital job.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton (right) and his husband

While he may have had a case against a private employer, the Church’s lawyers argued that anti-discrimination law should not apply because of the Church’s opt-out.

A bishop has now said that the Church should support a change in the law to remove its ability to discriminate

Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes, who had spoken in support of Canon Pemberton, said it was not sustainable for the Church to have the exemption if it is going to seek to modernise on LGBT issues.

Speaking to Christian Today, the bishop said: “We want to ask the churches to answer the question – if we mean what we say about opposing homophobia, if we believe what we say about wanting to include everyone, if we believe that God made every one they are, then what does that imply for our public polices?

“We will advocate for a greater openness and the implication of that is we may have to reexamine the prohibitions that are there in law at the moment. I hope for a future whereby people like Jeremy can feel that their ministry can be exercised and that they can love the person they love freely.”

The bishop also hinted that Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, which explicitly bans the Church of England from carrying out same-sex weddings, may also eventually have to be re-written.

He added:  “I don’t think we should just ignore what the government has done and I certainly don’t think the government should tell the Church what to do.

“But I do think we should continue to advocate for greater freedom and in the end who knows what that will mean? It may mean that one day it will be possible for people in a same-sex relationship to have that relationship affirmed in a way that is now illegal and in that case we would have to change the law.”

Bayes was backed up by David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, who also said the Church should lose its exemption from equality laws.

(Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr Ison added: “We’ve have to got to come to terms with the reality of the world we’re in and we’re not doing that. That is why we’re becoming disconnected from society.

“My view is that if there is a price to be paid for what you believe in conscience then you should pay that; you should not make other people pay the price for your conscience.

“That applies to abortion, to issues of sexuality and gender and right across the piste. If it is legal, decent and honest but you don’t believe it is right, then you have to deal with it.”

The Bishop of Buckingham Alan Wilson, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, previously called for the Church of England to lose its broad opt-out from the rules.

Asked if it the law should be changed, the bishop said: “Yes.”

Wilson added: “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.”

“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.”