Priest in same-sex marriage loses legal challenge to bishop’s “discriminatory” response

Mar 22, 2018 by

from Anglican Communion News Service.

The Church of England did not unlawfully discriminate against a priest by refusing to grant a licence after he entered a same-sex marriage, London’s Court of Appeal said today. The Revd Jeremy Pemberton married his same-sex partner, Laurence Cunnington, in 2014, shortly after same-sex civil marriages were legalised in England and Wales. But the move was contrary to the C of E’s doctrine of marriage and as a result, the acting bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, Richard Inwood, revoked his Permission to Officiate and denied a licence for him to take up a role as an Anglican hospital chaplain. Pemberton challenged the decision in the Employment Tribunal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal and finally the Court of Appeal. All three ruled that the bishop had acted lawfully.

The decision to withhold a licence under the Extra-Parochial Places Ministry Measure 1967, was taken by Bishop Richard on the grounds that by marrying his same-sex partner, Pemberton could not be considered to be in good standing because he had acted contrary to the House of Bishops’ pastoral guidance which had banned same-sex marriages among the clergy.

Mr Pemberton had argued that the Church of England should not be able to rely on exemptions in the UK’s Equalities Act because as a hospital chaplain, his employer would have been a National Health Service (NHS) Trust, rather than the Church. But this argument was rejected by the Employment Tribunal, which ruled that although the NHS Trust would have been the employer, and had “set the job description and conducted the interviews and made the appointment, it was an integral part of what the Trust wanted that the Claimant be able to minister as a Church of England priest and thus be licensed to do so. . .”

… The Tribunal also rejected attempts to consider whether the Church’s doctrine on marriage was something the courts could adjudicate on. “If there is a clear doctrine relating to the nature of marriage and which excludes same sex marriage for the purposes of the Church, rather than the State, and that doctrine requires obedience from the Priest by way of the Canons, then that is the end of the matter for our purposes,” the Employment Tribunal judgment said. “It matters not what we think about the appropriateness of the doctrines to current times. It is not for us to reconstruct the Church’s doctrines. . . There is the distinction between the Church and State. The constitutional convention means that the State cannot impose same sex marriage upon the Church.”

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