Jeremy Pemberton v (Acting) Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham

_76182996_tpjeremy3Final submissions were made last week in the case of Jeremy Pemberton who has taken the former acting Bishop of my diocese to an employment tribunal. It was initially thought that a judgement would be forthcoming around now, but it appears as though the submissions from both sides were so detailed that the ruling will not now take place until some time next year.

The background is fully set out, with exploration of the questions, in an earlier post. In short, Jeremy lived in Southwell, and had ‘permission to officiate’ in this diocese, but was a hospital chaplain in Lincoln diocese. When he entered a same-sex marriage, he had a disciplinary discussion with the Bishop of Lincoln, who did not (however) remove his license; that would have required a full, legal, disciplinary process. In this diocese, his PTO was removed, which required no process other than a meeting and a decision, since PTO has no legal standing. He was then appointed to a new job as a chaplain within this diocese, and the hospital required that he had a license from the relevant diocese. Since the bishop here had removed his PTO, he naturally refused to grant a license, taking the view that Jeremy was not in good standing with the Church, as he had entered a same-sex marriage against the explicit direction of the House of Bishops’ recent statement. To make matters slightly more complicated (if that were needed), the diocese was in vacancy, so the person responsible was the Acting Diocesan Bishop, Richard Inwood. (Come to think, that wasn’t very short…)

One of the questions that I raised in discussion is why Jeremy was taking the bishop to court—since the diocese was not the potential employer. Peter Ould put it like this:

First, it is unclear that it is the Bishops’ fault that Jeremy Pemberton did not get the job. The law of England and Wales does not require the NHS to demand that its chaplains hold accreditation from a recognised denomination, so the decision to require a licence is the choice of the NHS Trust, not the Church of England. In this sense it is arguable that Pemberton is taking the wrong institution to tribunal.

Frank Cranmer, over on his Law and Religion blog, also highlights this point:

The PA report overlooks the crucial point in all this: was there any kind of employment relationship between Pemberton and the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham or was there not? If there was not, then the issue of whether or not the Bishop was with his rights to withdraw Pemberton’s PTO presumably falls away: Employment Tribunals adjudicate almost exclusively on matters of employment, not on general contractual or supervisory relationships…

Since this is UK law, the obvious question to ask is: is there a precedent? And the answer is ‘Yes’: the case of Norad Halawi, who lost her job at Heathrow Airport. Christian Concern reported it as follows:

The Court of Appeal has today ruled that a Christian worker who lost her job at Heathrow airport after spurious ‘anti-Islam’ complaints were made against her, has no employment protection rights.

The conclusion drawn from this was that Christians are losing their rights to practice freedom of belief.

The case raised important issues about the disparity of treatment of Christian and Muslim workers. Nohad says her substantive complaints were effectively ignored by World Duty Free but that the company acted immediately to end her livelihood when unsubstantiated complaints were made against her. She believes that she lost her role because she spoke up for the freedom of Christians and dared to stand against inappropriate conduct by a group of Muslim employees.

But as Frank Cranmer points out in his comment on that case, the case actually said nothing about discrimination on the grounds of religious belief.

Whether or not the case does, in fact, raise issues about disparity of treatment as between Christian and Muslim workers we shall never know, because that is not what the judgment is about: the issue of religion was not mentioned. The point at issue was whether or not Mrs Halawi, who provided her services to WDF through her own company, had an employment relationship with WDF of a kind that gave rise to enforceable employment rights. The Court of Appeal decided, on the facts, that she did not – and absent such a relationship, any further argument about discrimination in employment, religious or otherwise, simply falls away.

The situation in the Pemberton case does not have quite the same complexities involved in sub-contracting employment, but it does have this one thing in common: the respondent (the acting bishop) was not the employer, so (as in the previous case) the tribunal is technically unable to make a judgement.

The question then is why the tribunal heard the case in the first place—but a tribunal did hear the case of Mrs Halawi, so that does not tell us anything. The difficulty of all this is shown by the glimpses we have had of the debate; Sean Jones, representing Pemberton, commented:

They are saying it’s not the substance, it’s the label. [The doctrine of marriage as one man and one woman] was not drawn up to prohibit same-sex marriage.

When the discussion in an employment tribunal starts trying to reflect on the reasons behind marriage being gender differentiated (something on which theologians find it hard to agree) you know you are in trouble.

Campaigners on both sides have hoped that the tribunal ruling might offer some decisive clarification of the position of the church. But my suspicion is that, in the end, the ruling will tell us precisely…nothing. In other words, it is likely not to find in Pemberton’s favour. If so, there will no doubt be rejoicing from those who support the Church’s current teaching position. But there will be no small irony if that arises from a logic which was previously seen to signal an anti-Christian trend in culture.

Having said that, as Frank Cranmer wisely cautions: ‘we’ve made the wrong call before…

You can follow me on Twitter @psephizo

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, would you consider donating £1.20 a month to support the production of this blog?

Signup to get email updates of new posts
We promise not to spam you. Unsubscribe at any time.
Invalid email address

If you enjoyed this, do share it on social media (Facebook or Twitter) using the buttons on the left. Follow me on Twitter @psephizo. Like my page on Facebook.

Much of my work is done on a freelance basis. If you have valued this post, you can make a single or repeat donation through PayPal:

For other ways to support this ministry, visit my Support page.

Comments policy: Do engage with the subject. Please don't turn this into a private discussion board. Do challenge others in the debate; please don't attack them personally. I no longer allow anonymous comments; if there are very good reasons, you may publish under a pseudonym; otherwise please include your full name, both first and surnames.

101 thoughts on “Jeremy Pemberton v (Acting) Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham”

  1. “the respondent (the acting bishop) was not the employer, so (as in the previous case) the tribunal is technically unable to make a judgement.”

    Having given notice on the CA Facebook page when and where the final day of the hearing was to be we felt sure you’d be there, as it’s just down the road from you! Some of your commentators were getting ‘very warm’ the last time there was a post about Jeremy and how it is that the ET has jurisdiction in this case (which was established at a preliminary hearing in October 2014) but this post goes off the boil again, I’m afraid. I can do no more than suggest that you settle down for a long and dull read of the entire Equality Act 2010 and you might just spot it!

    There is nothing unusual in there being a wait of several months for a judgment in complex cases such as this one. We had no expectation otherwise, so press reports that Jeremy is being ‘forced to wait’ were off the mark.

    None of this is to say that I have any idea what the outcome of the case will be. We shall just have to wait for the Tribunal’s written judgment.

    • Laurence,

      We understand perfectly the argument based upon the Equality Act. The problem for Jeremy’s position is that the Church of England is exempted from it’s provisions on sexual orientation if the discrimination is made for valid doctrinal reasons. Arguing that same-sex marriage isn’t a doctrinal issue is going to be a hard job and certainly isn’t the remit of an Employment Tribunal.

      Frankly, discussions about whether it is a matter for the CDM or the EJM, or whether the removal of a PTO was or wasn’t due process are irrelevant. An Employment Tribunal is not going to tell the Church of England who it can or can’t recognise as a clergyperson in good standing.

      • Peter,

        “We understand perfectly the argument based upon the Equality Act.”

        You’ll appreciate that I can’t say whether you do or whether you don’t! I was replying to the point about jurisdiction – and, even then, you’ll notice that I didn’t actually say anything.

        • I don’t think I understand your point about jurisdiction in relation to the Equality Act.

          On the one hand, the Act might be considered to apply to the hospital, in which case it is they who are at fault.

          If the Act is brought to bear on the Church, then in relation to licensing ministry the Church is clearly exempt.

          So I am unclear as to why this gives any insight on why the ET might have anything to say…? Or am I missing something?

          • “Or am I missing something?”

            Yes, you are – and so has *everyone else* that has commented on this case, whether ‘for’ or ‘against’. And that’s why I recommended a thorough re-read of the Equality Act. In fairness, if it were that obvious, a team of barristers wouldn’t have been necessary to find it in the first place!

            I now realise it was somewhat foolish of me to comment at all when I am not in a position to give any answers. All I can do is repeat that a preliminary hearing was held in October 2014 at which jurisdiction was established.

            A further repetition – none of this has anything to do with what the *outcome* of the case will be. That is in the hands of the Tribunal.

          • I’m guessing jurisdiction for the employment tribunal might be related to the Equality Act (2010) 53.1.c – is the diocese acting as a qualifications body? Paragraph 54.3 states that ‘A relevant qualification is an authorisation, qualification, recognition, registration, enrolment, approval or certification which is needed for, or facilitates engagement in, a particular trade or profession’.

            This might fit the case – the diocese are acting (legally) as a qualifications body in issuing a licence for chaplaincy work. This then brings it under the jurisdiction of the Employment Tribunal.

            As Laurence says, this would establish jurisdiction – not whether the diocese then has a right to refuse authorisation on the basis of marriage etc.

          • If that were the case then Schedule 9, Section 2 still covers the Church of England, even operating as a qualifying body. Here’s the first three sub-sections of Section 9.


            (1)A person (A) does not contravene a provision mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) by applying in relation to employment a requirement to which sub-paragraph (4) applies if A shows that—

            (a)the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion,

            (b)the application of the requirement engages the compliance or non-conflict principle, and

            (c)the person to whom A applies the requirement does not meet it (or A has reasonable grounds for not being satisfied that the person meets it).

            (2)The provisions are—

            (a)section 39(1)(a) or (c) or (2)(b) or (c);

            (b)section 49(3)(a) or (c) or (6)(b) or (c);

            (c)section 50(3)(a) or (c) or (6)(b) or (c);

            (d)section 51(1).

            (3)A person does not contravene section 53(1) or (2)(a) or (b) by applying in relation to a relevant qualification (within the meaning of that section) a requirement to which sub-paragraph (4) applies if the person shows that—

            (a)the qualification is for the purposes of employment mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a), and

            (b)the application of the requirement engages the compliance or non-conflict principle.


            Sub-Section 9(3) refers to Section 53 of the main Act and refers to Sub-Section 4 of Part 2 of Schedule 9.

          • Of course, if the argument is that the actions of the Acting BIshop violated Section 53(5) of the Act, well again I think that’s a hard argument to make.

            (5)A qualifications body (A) must not victimise a person (B) upon whom A has conferred a relevant qualification—

            (a)by withdrawing the qualification from B;

            (b)by varying the terms on which B holds the qualification;

            (c)by subjecting B to any other detriment.

          • And in relation to exemptions… if the issue is as a qualifications body, the diocese has an exemption under Schedule 9.2.3 – but does the exemption cover Jeremy’s case? These are outlined in 9.2.4. Paragraphs a-d don’t apply (chaplains can be either gender, married or single, and divorced). Does paragraph e apply? The diocese was happy to give Jeremy a PTO when in a civil partnership. The law appears to treat civil partnerships as equal to marriages. So Jeremy could be arguing that the refusal of a licence is not because of his sexual orientation, but because he was in a civil partnership and is now in a marriage, and it is illegal to discriminate between a civil partnership and a marriage (and the church has no exemption for this).

            If the diocese had refused a PTO when he was in a civil partnership, they would then be in a stronger position to claim the refusal was on grounds of sexual orientation. But they didn’t.

            (I am trying to remember the background – I assume that Laurence and Jeremy were in a civil partnership before, but I could be wrong).

          • Jonathan ‘The law appears to treat civil partnerships as equal to marriages.’ sounds like it might be the nub of it, and in fact that was the one point mentioned in the Guardian reporting of the plaintiff argument.

            Given that the Church’s teaching position on SSM has been clear and consistent, if the ET decide the Church cannot discriminate between SSM and CP (as it clearly has in the past) then the logical thing is for the Church to change its position on CP, not on SSM. the bishops made a big blunder in not doing that in the first place.

          • Jeremy and I were not in a Civil Partnership before our marriage. We were living together in a relationship which was known to the Bishop who issued the PTO (Paul Butler, now Bishop of Durham) and to the Suffragan Bishop of Sherwood (Tony Porter) who was subsequently the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham prior to the appointment of Richard Inwood to that post.

          • Thank you, Laurence, for taking the time to set out the context. It’s appreciated.

            Also, I’m aware that this issue touches me only tangentially – whereas you and Jeremy are directly affected.

    • Thanks for the comment Laurence.

      I am not a member of the CA page, so didn’t see the notice, and had other commitments—otherwise I would have liked to have been there. It would have been very interesting, and it would have been good to meet the various parties in person as well.

      My comment about jurisdiction was prompted by Frank Cranmer’s comments, which are given from the point of view of the law, and not with any other motivation.

      I entirely agree with you on the timescale and the spurious headlines…but newspapers need to make things look dramatic. I am not sure if we have any clearer idea of exactly what the timing will be.

  2. Ian

    I think the case you referenced is a bit different – I only know it from what you’ve reported – because it hinged on the lady’s employment status and the courts found her to be self-employed. JP however would have been employed by the NHS (not self-employed)

    Im no lawyer, but Ive done my office’s “equality” course twice now. (As an aside I think the CofE would be a safer/better place if all clergy had to go on an equality course!) The equality act is quite wide-ranging. For example, if a customer were to abuse or mock a gay employee because of their sexuality, the employer could be taken to court *unless* they had taken steps against it. Therefore I think (we will wait for a verdict!) that a person who, by withholding a license, blocks someone because of a protected characteristic from a job *is* breaking the law. Perhaps an analogous example would be a flight school withholding a pilots license on the grounds that they don’t agree with women flying planes.

    I think what the law isn’t so clear on is the status of the CofE, which is supposed to be protected from having to follow the equality act. Clearly the CofE is allowed to discriminate if it is the employer/holder of office, but it is not clear if it is allowed to discriminate on external positions.

    Ofc if the church allowed for actual disagreement on this issue, like the ABC keeps claiming is already the case, then there would be no need to take anyone to court and there would be no postcode lottery and no more of the horrendous situation we are in now where the “crime” is not to be in a relationship, but to be public about it.

    • ” Clearly the CofE is allowed to discriminate if it is the employer/holder of office, but it is not clear if it is allowed to discriminate on external positions.”

      But since the external position is not theirs AND the decision of the third party to rely upon a licence from the Church of England is not required in law (i.e. it is an entirely arbitrary decision of the NHS Trust) the Church of England has done nothing wrong.

      The equivalent case for all intents and purposes is the removal of a PTO for another sexual action that contradicts the Church’s doctrine of sex and marriage (e.g. adultery). No Employment Tribunal is going to say the Church cannot do that.

      I await with the ruling from the Tribunal with great interest, but I think there’s only one way it’s going.

      • Adultery isn’t one of the protected characteristics. If someone was dismissed or not hired because of adultery, the employer is not in breach of the equality act…though I would expect it would still be considered unfair dismissal, just not discriminatory.

        As I said before, it is my understanding that the equality act is much more wide reaching that you give it credit and Im pretty sure if the CofE did not have a privileged position it would be an open and shut case in favour of JP. The question is “is the CofE allowed to discriminate for roles outside the church?”

    • Pete, the main problem with your argument is that you are supposing that a license primarily functions as a reference for jobs like this chaplaincy. It doesn’t. The license is *the* way, and the only way, that a bishop appoints clergy to ministerial posts.

      As Peter O says, it is going to be hard to envisage a tribunal stepping in and telling the Church how to regulate all of its relations with all of its clergy on the basis of what is, in terms of the Church’s overall ministry, an incidental arrangement.

      As Peter also points out, it was the hospital, not the Church, which asked for the license as a condition of employment.

      • I would say a license was a bit more substantial than a reference. A reference is a reccomendation, but a license comes with authority.

        I think what you are saying is that if the bishop were to grant JP a license then it would also allow him to act as a priest in the diocesis? I can see that is a problem for the CofE, but I can’t really see that it is relevant to the outcome of the case. The bishop either acted lawfully or unlawfully. There won’t be a verdict of “it was unlawful, but we’ll let them break the law because otherwise they will be in a bit of a pickle”.

        *if* I am right about the case, the CofE could come to an arrangement with the NHS whereby a full license is not required. I feel like I’ve heard of people being licensed very specifically in the past (is that right?)

      • The nearest I can put myself in the situation is if when my security clearance came up for renewal I was considered a threat because of my sexuality (like A. Turing!)

        If I lost my job because of it, my colleagues (I hope) would be sorry to see me go and presumably quite angry about the injustice.

        Under that situation I would probably actually just try to find another job, as Im not really a brave sort of person, but if I were to seek justice, it would be more likely against the people who had blocked me for the job, not against the employer who sacked me…so I can well understand JPs position.

          • Why?

            Im not saying that a license is equivalent to a security clearance, I’m saying that I would feel the injustice had been done by the security clearance people, not my employer.

          • It’s not like that because

            a. it is not about ceasing employing but being prevented from starting it

            b. it is not about something affecting your work, but a situation (not sexuality) which would affect something else, but that something else being required for the work at the decision of your current employer.

            I tried to offer a neutral parallel example, but couldn’t think of one which wasn’t either offensive or misleading…

          • Sorry Ian I clearly haven’t explained well. I wasn’t trying to find a direct comparison per se. I was talking about why I can understand why JP would want justice from the organisation causing discrimination and not particularly my employer

            However, could you explain why you think a license is substantially different to a security clearance?

            I agree with A) but I’m not sure that it is *that* relevant – they could’ve refused me a security clearance when I started and I would feel the same.

  3. It’s complicated, isn’t it…

    …all the following comes with the usual warning that I don’t really know what I’m talking about – I’m not a lawyer.

    I suspect that the NHS authority couldn’t have appointed someone without a licence, if they wished to appoint a Church of England chaplain (in other words, it wasn’t an arbitrary requirement). Any clergy person without a licence would be acting against canon law. Therefore, a licence becomes essential for the role. The option to appoint Jeremy without a licence was therefore not available to the trust, as he would be unable legally to carry out the required duties. It also means that the CofE is effectively part of the appointment process.

    The tribunal probably won’t want to say whether or not doctrinally whether same-sex marriage is or isn’t against the teaching of the Church of England. But it might want to say whether the Church of England has followed procedures fairly.

    Ian, you commented above that the bishop was ‘taking the view that Jeremy was not in good standing with the Church’. But this hadn’t been established. If Jeremy had already had a licence in the diocese, then steps could have been taken under CDM. The refusal or withdrawal of a PTO does NOT establish good standing – because a bishop doesn’t have to give or justify any reasons for it. The tribunal might decide that the refusal to give a licence without establishing such lack of good standing/doctrinal diversion etc is procedurally unfair.

    If they decide that the procedures were unfair, and that the diocese was legally part of the appointment process, then maybe they will find for Jeremy.

    (Or maybe not… …it’s complicated).

    • “The tribunal might decide that the refusal to give a licence without establishing such lack of good standing/doctrinal diversion etc is procedurally unfair.”

      But then that would have implications for the CofE way beyond this case (if upheld on appeal).

      “I suspect that the NHS authority couldn’t have appointed someone without a licence, if they wished to appoint a Church of England chaplain (in other words, it wasn’t an arbitrary requirement).”

      But they were under no obligation to appoint a Church of England chaplain. Furthermore, none of the necessary functions of the position Jeremy applied for (and was offered) requires ordination. Any formal liturgical functions could be easily delegated.

  4. I’ve only just noticed that Jeremy wasn’t discriminated against (legally or otherwise) on the basis of his sexual orientation, but on the basis of being married rather than in a civil partnership. Does the church have an exemption for this (marriage being a protected characteristic)?

    • Yes. Schedule 2, Section 9 of the Equality Act.

      You’re looking for 2.4.c and f


      Religious requirements relating to sex, marriage etc., sexual orientation

      2(1)A person (A) does not contravene a provision mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) by applying in relation to employment a requirement to which sub-paragraph (4) applies if A shows that—

      (a)the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion,

      (b)the application of the requirement engages the compliance or non-conflict principle, and

      (c)the person to whom A applies the requirement does not meet it (or A has reasonable grounds for not being satisfied that the person meets it).

      (2)The provisions are—

      (a)section 39(1)(a) or (c) or (2)(b) or (c);

      (b)section 49(3)(a) or (c) or (6)(b) or (c);

      (c)section 50(3)(a) or (c) or (6)(b) or (c);

      (d)section 51(1).

      (3)A person does not contravene section 53(1) or (2)(a) or (b) by applying in relation to a relevant qualification (within the meaning of that section) a requirement to which sub-paragraph (4) applies if the person shows that—

      (a)the qualification is for the purposes of employment mentioned in sub-paragraph (1)(a), and

      (b)the application of the requirement engages the compliance or non-conflict principle.

      (4)This sub-paragraph applies to—

      (a)a requirement to be of a particular sex;

      (b)a requirement not to be a transsexual person;

      (c)a requirement not to be married or a civil partner;

      (d)a requirement not to be married to, or the civil partner of, a person who has a living former spouse or civil partner;

      (e)a requirement relating to circumstances in which a marriage or civil partnership came to an end;

      (f)a requirement related to sexual orientation.

      (5)The application of a requirement engages the compliance principle if the requirement is applied so as to comply with the doctrines of the religion.

      (6)The application of a requirement engages the non-conflict principle if, because of the nature or context of the employment, the requirement is applied so as to avoid conflicting with the strongly held religious convictions of a significant number of the religion’s followers.

      (7)A reference to employment includes a reference to an appointment to a personal or public office.

      (8)In the case of a requirement within sub-paragraph (4)(a), sub-paragraph (1) has effect as if in paragraph (c) the words from “(or” to the end were omitted.

      • Thanks for this Peter. See my comment upthread about whether the church does have an exemption for treating marriage differently from civil partnership (not explicit in 4a-f).

        • I think Jonathan it could be both marriage and sexuality. As we’ve seen in the NI cake case, discrimination against sexual orientation does not have to be specifically against the persons orientation, but can also be against expressions of it. For instance an insurance company will have broken the law if they will not provide insurance for a gay married person, but will for single gay people or straight married people. They might claim not to be discriminating against orientation, since they will provide insurance if the individual is single, but they are still breaking the law.

          What you usually do is find the straight equivalent “if JP was straight and married, would he have been granted a license.”. As I said further up, it is pretty clear that JP has been discriminated against on the basis of at least one protected characteristic, but I think the murky unknown is if the CofE were legally allowed to do that.

          • No,it is clearly not on the basis of sexuality. The C of E has said that sexuality is not an issue, but being in an SSM is. And in this case the action has only been taken on the grounds of SSM, and very clearly not on anything else.

          • Ian

            Surely that is for the law to decide not he church?

            The standard test for discrimination due to orientation is to ask “would the same thing have happend to a straight person?”. The answer is clearly no

          • Yes it would. If a straight person entered a same-sex marriage (and that is not impossible in law) then they too would be refuse a license. No question about sexuality need be asked.

          • I *very* much doubt the tribunal will consider the straight equivalent “a straight person entering a gay marriage”(!!!) did you say that just to be difficult?
            Well we have a long time to speculate without really knowing what the outcome will be.

          • Yes there is – it is a protected characteristic!

            If the orientation is irrelevant then that just makes my case even more strongly since JP would have been granted a license if he had married a woman.

  5. Although I very much dislike the way the CofE behaves towards gay people. Im very glad for the good fortune to have been born in England. In Kenya there seems to be currently, frankly, a witch hunt against gay clergy. And if Ive read the news article correctly, they are using evidence heard in confession to round up the accused. I would like to see the CofE lead the way in changing the communion for the better instead of being a yes man for barbarism.

  6. There is another point which will muddy the water still further for the Church regarding its different position in relation to civil partnership and same-sex marriage (though it doesn’t apply in Jeremy’s case as we weren’t in a Civil Partnership prior to marriage). And that is, that when one ‘upgrades’ from a CP (which the Church approves of) to marriage (which it doesn’t), the marriage is backdated to the date of the CP i.e. you have been married all along, even though the start of the marriage can pre-date the introduction of same-sex marriage!

    • This is a very good point Laurence. That said, can you give an example of where a problem arises? Once a CP is converted into a marriage, it is a marriage and therefore the clergyperson is subject to discipline. How is the back dating relevant?

      • Ian

        I agree and disagree.

        I agree the bishops are in an almighty mess over this, but I think actually the problem stems from decades of most bishops taking the attiude that gay relationships for their clergy are fine as long as no one finds out. (This is still very much going on, as LC has stated above).

        Ofc this has always been a postcode lottery, because why would there be any consistency?! I think it has left a lot of gay clergy (and people in training) unsure of what actually is “OK” and what is not “OK” …and it might change when the bishop changes. I think the trouble the bishops actually have with gay marriage is not that sex is implied, but that it is public knowledge.

        • “that gay relationships for their clergy are fine as long as no one finds out. (This is still very much going on, as LC has stated above).”

          That may be true in general but was not the case regarding my relationship with Jeremy which could not have been more open or widely known about by the Bishops, the Diocesan senior staff, the Cathedral where Jeremy works, or in the community at large (although Southwell is a Cathedral town, it is scarcely more than a village). We are, and always have been, an ‘out’ gay couple living together in a house we rent from the Church of England. It wasn’t a case of “don’t ask – don’t tell” but “didn’t ask but was told anyway”.

          • Sorry Laurence if I came across as talking about you!

            My point still kind of stands with what you have described in that clearly the bishops do not have a problem with you having a relationship, even a sexual relationship, they only have a problem with you making it official

          • That’s not correct. The stated policy of the House of Bishops is that they *do* have a problem with sexual same-sex relationships. But they decided not to presume that CPs were sexual.

            And it does not relate to Laurence of course—only Jeremy.

          • But LC seems to be saying that they were very open about that. We are in the stupid situation now where the bishops actually approve of promiscuity (NB not referring to LC here!!!) more than marriage. It may be their stated policy that they don’t approve of sex, but that is not what is happening on the ground. This has created a world of confusion and fear – as I stated before.

            According to someone at the previous hearing, the CofE not only tolerates, but supports CPs – this was news to me!

      • Also Im not sure if you mean that all CPs are in reality non-celibate or not?! I think we should assume that clergy who claim to be in a celibate relationship actually are telling the truth.

        • Even if they are “celibate” in the sense of avoiding Higton’s “homosexual genital acts,” a gay couple in a civil partnership are sexually attracted to one another: it’s called homosexuality for good reason. The fiction that it’s a friendship is the worst kind of legalism. I don’t want to get it on with my friends.

          This nonsense about civil partnerships celebrating friendships might’ve been done with good intentions — English bishops might even have thought they were being kind — but the denial was unsustainable, and down the line, was always gonna blow up in the bishops’ faces.

          They’re stuck between reason — people have different sexual orientations — and dogma — expressing anything besides heterosexuality is a sin. Sooner or later, the dogma will fall, as it always has before. Tragic that so many are harmed in the meantime.

          • All of which goes to show the danger when Christians fail to be objective and logical for reasons of compassion or sympathy. While the Bishops will have had variable motives in supporting CPs there is no reason to doubt that they thought what they were doing was fair. But to be ‘fair’ meant that they had to be duplicitous by pretending that CPs had no sexual implications and therefore did not challenge the Church’s doctrine.

            In the heat of the moment our heads frequently choose to defer to our hearts; in looking back we usually wish we had used our heads instead.

          • Yup, always, from the divine rights of kings, to slavery, to the Curse of Ham, to divorce and remarriage (Kim Davis has racked up four, which causes her supporters no problem).

            Even where the dogma’s officially in place, like the Catholic Church, it’s ignored in practice, whether by “annulments” that’re de facto divorces, or by a blind eye being turned to millions of Western laity who use birth control.

            Can you honestly see society changing its mind on sexuality? If so, how? If not, is it reasonable to believe that your position can be imposed on the rest of the church indefinitely?

          • ‘Can you honestly see society changing its mind on sexuality?’ James, I can never even predict the result of a general election but I’ll stick my neck out and say that I don’t expect the new position on sexuality in Britain to change fundamentally in my lifetime. My reasoning is that, while you can go one way reasonably smoothly and incrementally, the mechanism is in the form of a ratchet; any reverse would be anything but smooth – more like a revolution.

            ‘If not, is it reasonable to believe that your position can be imposed on the rest of the church indefinitely?’ Absolutely not! But it is reasonable for the church to accept God’s position; however, who among us would dare to suggest that we exactly represent God’s position? And that leads us straight back to the ongoing debate on Biblical authority and interpretation… Unfortunately that debate may be happening in a few places (such as this blog) but it appears not to be the purpose of ‘shared conversations’; so I see the church in a confused position, trying to use its heart when it really needs to use its head.

            Since God doesn’t impose His position on society it would be unreasonable for the church to assume the right to do so; what it can and should do is speak truth to power and pray for those in authority. This means that the church will regularly find itself out of step with society but does that mean that the church should change its doctrine?

          • “to divorce and remarriage (Kim Davis has racked up four, which causes her supporters no problem)”

            Are we not in the business of forgiveness, new starts and “go away and sin no more” then?

          • Peter – for me my big issue with KD is not that she is remarried, had kids out of wedlock etc, but that she is very happy to issue licenses to remarried divorcees (and possible other forms of relationship that her faith is against). Her actions are similar to those outlined by Dan – most conservative churches that reject gay marriage/couples will have in their congregation remarried divorcees who are accepted as equal brothers and sisters. I think it is the unweighted scales that really is a problem.

            I really hope – not least for her sake – that the situation in Rowan County is now resolved.

          • Peter, you’ve said it yourself: go away and sin no more. Forgiveness is contingent on repentance and change.

            The gospel account of Jesus is clear that remarriage after divorce (perhaps with a narrow exception for sexual immorality) is adultery, and Paul’s clear that adultery is a salvation issue, every bit as much as homosexuality.

            I’ve seen not a shred of evidence that those who support Davis in flouting the law have examined her tangled personal arrangements to ensure that she’s not living in a state of continued, unrepentant sin. That being so, it’s reasonable to infer that adherence to biblical teaching isn’t their primary motivation.

        • I think the point about all this is that no one has ever had the temerity to ask me anything about the status of my relationship with Laurence. The Church of England has made it clear that I might have expected to have been asked personal questions at various points, but, in fact, I wasn’t.

          Pilling also makes clear that no presumption should be made about sexual activity in a same sex marriage just as no presumption about sexual activity can be made in a CP. Marriages are valid even if they are never “consummated”, either heterosexually or homosexually – the only point at which it becomes important to anyone else but the couple is in a heterosexual marriage if one party decides they want the marriage annulled, when non-consummation becomes a ground for that.

  7. All the comments like those of people like Pete J show is that whilst any rational, sensible person would decide it is all outside the competency of any Industrial Tribunal, the IT and others fully intend to give the Church a good anti-Christian kicking.

    • “the IT (sic) and others fully intend to give the Church a good anti-Christian kicking.”

      The Employment Tribunal hasn’t issued a judgment. Its intentions remain unknown.

      • Laurence,

        I just wanted to say thank you for contributing to this thread. I know we are talking about something that is deeply personal to you (obviously) and whilst much of what we are discussing is theoretical and abstract, for you it is real life.

        I hope that once the ruling is in, you’ll be able to continue to share here.

    • Since Jeremy, Laurence and the bishop (and myself!) are all Christians, I don’t think any outcome could be described as anti-Christian. I think *if* the tribunal finds against the bishop it might be described as “pro-gay equality” but then the law of the land is pro-gay equality!

      Given that the CofE is established and both our head of government and head of state are part of it *and* that it has been granted significant opt-outs of having to treat gay people as well as other organisations now have to treat gay people, I don’t think you can really accuse the law of being anti-Christian.

  8. Equality is completely the wrong word and is a grave misuse.

    Since the law for same sex “marriage” is seriously different for an SSM than it is for a marriage between a man and a woman they are most certainly not equal. Therefore to say “…but then the law of the land is pro-gay equality!” it is clear that the law of the land has NOT offered equality but inequality

        • Peter, as you know, the word ‘marriage’ in the case of same sex couples is a very recent legal definition which many people do not accept as a factual description, and they have sound reasoning and a very long history on their side.

          While good manners and mutual respect are very much to be desired, state orders to change the meaning of words are a dangerous development which should be resisted by all lovers of freedom. By all means invent a new word to cover the new situation, in which case neither disrespect nor enforced acquiescence would be a problem.

        • I think I’m with Don on this one…though depending on the context.

          Anyone in an SSM is indeed married legally. But this institution is clearly different from Christian theological understandings of marriage, and discontinuous with historic understandings. It was fascinating to listen to a lecture on Saturday morning from Scot Peterson of Balliol College, Oxford, on how important the legal definition of consummation has been in the law of marriage over centuries.

          The removal of this, and so of adultery as a grounds of divorce, is an enormous and significant fundamental change in definition.

  9. Clive

    so you agree that such a ruling would not be anti-Christian?

    What exactly is your problem with gay people?!

    NB I didn’t say the law was equal for gays and straights (although I do think it is now pretty close to be equal)

  10. Dear Pete J

    I don’t have any problem at all with gay people but let’s not pretend at all that there is marriage equality when there clearly isn’t. Not even the government has called their legislation marriage equality so let’s drop the pretence.

  11. “the law of the land is pro-gay equality!”

    Hmmm that’s not the same as the law of the land saying gay marriage is equal to straight marriage. I could see that the two are similar, but are not the same. The law does not yet treat gay marriage as equal as straight marriage on a number of levels. The most obvious is it is illegal to get gay married in the Church of England. Straight marriages are encouraged in the Church of England. So no I would not say there was equality, but there is an aspiration of equality.

    I do not understand why the church is so opposed to gay marriage when it can accommodate disagreement about so many other – often much more fundamental – issues. I don’t *really* understand why it is opposed to gay marriage in the first place. It just seems a bit cruel and nasty to me and leads to a wide range of anti-gay stuff. It is bringing Gods church into disrepute.

  12. So you’ve now referred in your second paragraph to gay marriage again.

    You talk about cruelty but the government and administration now clearly show by their actions that Fathers are completely worthless and pointless – That is extremely cruel and wrong. Government and administration now count Mothers as unimportant and no longer support families and children. That is where the real cruelty and dishonesty all is.

    • Clive I really don’t understand why you see this “either or” between supporting gay people and supporting straight couples and their children? The government massively supports family life – family tax credits, childcare, education, midwives, fertility treatment, sure start etc.

      Do you understand that your opinion that gay people are actually a threat to straight married couples and their children is actually really hurtful to most gay people (who, like most straight people, actually support family and friends with their children and relationships). When one part of the body suffers, the whole body suffers.

      • I think there is actually quite a strong either/or—not because SSM causes it, but because acceptance of SSM depends on a redefinition of marriage which also leads to a loss of interest in marriage as primarily a place of procreation and nurture of children.

        For most in the population, the approval of SSM comes from the idea that marriage relations are no more or less than freely chosen commitments to a relationship which serves one’s own sense of fulfilment. In this context, there is little or no sense of marriage as an institution which constitutes the fabric of society, nor any particular expectation that the siring and raising of children should be a normal expectation. This is seen instead as both a right of the individuals concerned (hence the pressure on IVF processes) and simultaneously as a free choice—so I should be able to choose whether and when to have children, according to my own priorities in life.

        Cultures that adopt this view, out of the prioritisation of free choice as the supreme human virtue, typically experience falling birth rates (since there is no moral obligation to raise children) and typically also experience higher levels of divorce and some sort of crisis of parenting—since how could anyone presume to tell me how I should raise my children?

        I think that is where we are at as a society, and we are not heading anywhere different just now.

  13. Dear Pete J,

    You were the one who introduced the claim of “cruelty” in your post of yesterday, Sept 13th 10:16 pm. I have not suggested to you any “either or” relationship as you wrongly claim but have stated to you what is actually cruel – and it’s not the Church but it is the government.

  14. Ian – what a load of rubbish! Allowing more people to marry means fewer people want to do it?!!! Are you serious??!!! I think one of the main reasons atheist straight couples still get married is to have a stronger domestic life in order to have children! This is just anecdotal evidence.

    Clive – you were suggesting the government no longer supported family life. I assumed given the topic you were saying that they can no longer support family life because they support equal marriage. Clearly they support gay and straight family life

  15. As I am a Reader I am licensed by the Bishop of the respective Diocese and have Permission to Officiate. The Bishop has the right to remove my license as he is the one who gave it in the first place. I consider that this case is just the same. A PTO can be given and it can be removed, it is not a contract of employment. It is a nonsense to say that the church cannot decide on who to licence and not licence. Just recently the Archbishop of York has removed the licence of a Reader in the York Diocese because he has decided to marry his male partner. I consider that the Bishop of Lincoln is the one who should be taken to task over this issue as he has not acted decisively, in defence of church teaching and the Acting Bishop is left with flack.

  16. 6I am not quite sure what Ian is arguing here.

    Is he saying that equal marriage has come about because people no longer see marriage is about child rearing or is he saying that now we have same sex marriage there will be less interest in marriage because the connection between marriage and having children has somehow been broken by the introduction of equal marriage?
    Perhaps he is saying both!

    My pastoral experience of those coming to be married is they remain committed to bring up children and for those recently enfranchised there is an expectation of children and an earnestness for children that astonishes me. Only a few short years ago we struggled to recruit adopters within this same constituency, now many, if not most are seeing it as a joyful duty to be embraced as part of their new life together.

    The numbers coming to Church for such preparation, encouragement and support are dwindling and those newly enabled are anyway excluded from the enriching and spiritually awakening experience of Holy Matrimony.

    As to the main point here.

    It is sad that Ian didn’t wander down the road to better inform his blog, especially as he thinks it’s observations are worth paying for. He really does need to be more willing to turn up if we are to take him seriously.

    I went to the tribunal where the bishop of Hereford weaved and dodged and claimed that interviews given at airports by Rowan Williams constituted Church policy … I didn’t believe Mr Reaney had a single chance until I heard the evidence and the Church did such a poor job of it that the tribunal found for him.
    I would not be surprised to see the same outcome here. I do hope Jeremy wins, he deserves this vindication.

    I still want to know if that strange group the English bench set up to advise bishops and create a consistent approach on equal marriage played any part in the evidence before the tribunal?

    • I also live in a Parish where there are weddings every weekend of the summer. However as Ian pointed out the culture now has an expectation of a rosy future and when the going gets tough many give up quickly, leaving children with no father figure and complex family structures. Holy Matrimony is one man and one woman for life, barring adultery. Thus forming genealogical structures and safe havens for children. This is what we need to focus on and support. The casual idea of marriage is now so casual that it is no longer just man and woman, it’s just 2 people.
      The people just franchised as you put it can never form a nuclear family. The child loses in the arrangement. Sperm donation and surrogacy means loss of a parent for the child and loss of a genealogical heritage. It is not marriage.

      • Then why hasn’t Ian written a blog opposing divorce?!

        Why isnt remarriage after divorce the “hot topic” in the CofE?

        Why do children of gay couples thrive as well (or not!) as straight couples (see Aus. and Canadian psych associations, the american association for marriage and family therapy and MANY academic papers)? The kids who do less well are those brought up in “care”.

        Why do I hear/read no conservative outrage that so many kids (something like 90k in the UK) are living this way?!

        Why do conservative churches welcome remarried divorcees as their own, but do not welcome gay couples and sometimes even gay single people?

        Why arent conservative churches “putting their money where their mouths are” and actually providing spousal level support for celibacy so that it is a viable option for anyone (especially those not considered worthy of marriage)?

        • ‘Then why hasn’t Ian written a blog opposing divorce?!’ Because the teaching position of the Church is clear; I think it is in line with Scripture; and no-one is currently pressing for it to change.

          So why would I need to?

          If you think that ‘conservatives’ (who sound like a breed apart whom you have never encountered personally) do go and explore the work of Care for the Family.

          • So you don’t think church teaching on gay marriage is clear???!!

            I’m sorry but there are (as far as I know) no churches that actively support celibacy by “conservative” I meant churches that teach against gay marriage… They are hypocritical because they are not promoting or supporting any alternative lifestyle. There are ofc also churches that teach against all gay people but I hope you’ll have no truck with them

    • Martin, you comment ‘I am not quite sure what Ian is arguing here.’ I am arguing that SSM doesn’t cause a change in the views of marriage and child-rearing—but that both result from more significant changes in attitudes to relationships. You’d be better informed if you read my comment more carefully…! 😀

      ‘My pastoral experience of those coming to be married is they remain committed to bring up children’. Yes, anecdotal evidence, because it is a small sample, can often go against the wider trend which is demonstrated by national statistics.

      ‘It is sad that Ian didn’t wander down the road to better inform his blog, especially as he thinks it’s observations are worth paying for. He really does need to be more willing to turn up if we are to take him seriously.’ I’d be happy to come if anyone had informed me. Do please point out where any of my comments are inaccurate because I am uninformed.

      I turn up to a good number of events on this subject…but only about 30 of my 400 posts have been on this—I have other things that I am interested in and committed to as well, and I turn up to them too.

        • Sorry it seemed to jump to publish without my asking!
          As I was saying:
          … how a first hand experience is key to the understanding of legal cases. When I taught journalism the rule was you could only report on a case that you had been present for. This is no arbitrary matter, rather it tells us how significant hearing the evidence and seeing the case progress is, and not just for the jury and the judge!

          I think there is an even more important matter for us as (mostly) Christians that says we should have an even greater duty of care for the facts when discussing such a contentious issue, one that has such a bearing on the life of a fellow Christian and dutiful priest. In reporting the tribunal are we seeking to inform or educate, to give new important information or are we stirring up dissension and division?

          As to the nature of relationships. I would say that following the string of Married Women’s Propert Acts in the last quarter of the 19 th century there has indeed been a seizmic shift in the way we understand both women and marriage and that has had a growing impact with further equality legislation. This has challenged some of the ways we relate to each other that had stayed relatively unchanged for millennia.


Leave a comment