Lambeth Conference: University of Kent defends hosting event excluding same-sex spouses

The Templeman Library at the University of Kent

The University of Kent has defended its decision to host an Anglican conference that excludes same-sex spouses.

The university’s Canterbury campus is set to be the venue for the 2020 Lambeth Conference, a once-a-decade meeting of global Anglican bishops and spouses that has come under fire after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby banned same-sex spouses from attending.

In a statement to PinkNews, the university defended the decision to host the £4,950-a-head event through its commercial venue hire service.

University of Kent: Church ‘legally entitled’ to exclude same-sex spouses

A University of Kent spokesperson told PinkNews: “It is our understanding that The Lambeth Conference, in running its conference, can rely on an exemption within the Equality Act 2010 which applies to religious organisations.

“The exemption means that the organisation would not be in breach of the Act by imposing the prohibition and that it is legally entitled to do so.

“While we would not apply such a prohibition to any event we were running directly, we have to respect clients’ rights providing they are lawful and justifiable should they wish to exercise a legal right which is open to them.”

Religious bodies are afforded specific exemptions in UK anti-discrimination law that permits them to discriminate against LGBT+ people, though some bishops have called for the loophole to be abolished.

The University of Kent spokesperson added that the event “is in line with those previously held with the organisation over the past 40 years.”

Gay American Bishop Gene Robinson walks past a sign near the market stall area of the Lambeth Conference at the University of Kent on July 21, 2008 in Canterbury, England.

Gay American Bishop Gene Robinson walks past a sign near the market stall area of the Lambeth Conference at the University of Kent on July 21, 2008 in Canterbury, England. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)

The statement adds: “If we, the University, were running the conference, we would not apply this prohibition under any circumstance.

“We have a clear commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity and fairness in all areas of its organisation, including race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, faith, social and educational background, nationality, marital status and family or care responsibilities.

“We value diversity, and demonstrate that value and respect to our staff, students, clients, community and the wider public by ensuring that our policies are inclusive to all, and are implemented fully and effectively.”

Archbishop of Canterbury warned gay bishops to leave husbands and wives at home

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby personally contacted several gay bishops to warn them not to bring their spouses.

New York Episcopal bishop Mary Glasspool spoke out after Welby warned not to bring her wife and partner of 30 years, Becki Sandler.

Bishop Glasspool said her wife was “shocked, hurt and enraged” by the decision to explicitly exclude her from the conference.

A Canadian Anglican bishop, Kevin Robertson, was also personally contacted by Welby and urged not to bring his husband to the Lambeth Conference.

Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, claimed in a February blog post that the decision was made “to take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage, which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.”

He added: “It would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference.”