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First priest in gay marriage, Jeremy Pemberton, loses employment tribunal

04 November 2015


Discrimination claim: Canon Pemberton

Discrimination claim: Canon Pemberton

CANON Jeremy Pemberton, who had his permission to officiate (PTO) removed last year after he became the first Church of England priest to enter into a same-sex marriage, has lost his case at an employment tribunal.

Canon Pemberton began tribunal proceedings against the Acting Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Richard Inwood, under the Equality Act last year (News, 12 September 2014).

He argued that Bishop Inwood, by removing his PTO and further refusing to grant him the necessary licence to take up a new post as an NHS chaplain, had discriminated against him, preventing him from taking up a new NHS chaplaincy appointment in the diocese.

On Wednesday the tribunal dismissed all his claims.

The tribunal ruled that the case did not involve any prejudice against homosexuals on the part of Bishop Inwood. It was "obvious from the evidence of [Bishop Inwood] that he has no animus in that respect at all, but sincerely believes that the doctrine of the Church is as stated in the Pilling report. . ."

The issue of the PTO was dismissed as unnecessary for an NHS chaplaincy. As for the extra-parochial ministry licence, required to take up the chaplaincy post, Bishop Inwood had withheld it because, by marrying his partner, Canon Pemberton had failed to comply with the House of Bishops’ pastoral guidance (News, 21 February 2014), which had banned same-sex marriages among the clergy, and was, therefore, no longer in good standing with the C of E.

To be granted an extra-parochial ministry licence, the tribunal said, Canon Pemberton would have had to undertake an oath of canonical obedience to the Bishop. The tribunal found that, given his "non-compliance with the pastoral guidance, and given the warnings he then received as to what might be the implications if he went ahead with his marriage . . . self-evidently he is not going to be able to fulfil that obligation."

Bishop Inwood was also found to have not discriminated against Canon Pemberton on the grounds of sexual orientation. The Equality Act provides a defence against discrimination if the employment is for the purposes of an organised religion.

The tribunal ruled that the current doctrine of the C of E was clear — marriage should be between one man and one woman — and therefore Bishop Inwood was protected from the discrimination claim because adhering to the Church’s doctrine was a requirement of taking up the new NHS chaplaincy post.

Finally, Canon Pemberton had claimed that the Bishop’s actions had amounted to harassment. The tribunal disagreed. "We accept that the Claimant [Canon Pemberton] was clearly distressed and felt humiliated and degraded by what had occurred.

"We conclude in the context of matters, given that the Church . . . acted lawfully . . . it would be an affront to justice if we were to find that what occurred constituted harassment."

A spokesman for the diocese said: "We are thankful to the tribunal for its work on this complex case and for its findings in favour of the former acting diocesan Bishop. We recognise that it has been a long and difficult process for all concerned, and we continue to hold them in our thoughts and prayers."

Canon Pemberton said that he was "disappointed", and that his lawyers were preparing to appeal.

The National Secular Society said that publicly-funded chaplains, such as those in NHS hospitals, should not have to be licensed by any religious body; instead being open to anyone regardless of religion or sexual orientation.

Veteran LGBT campaigner Peter Tatchell said the ruling gave the "green light to bishops across Britain to witch-hunt married gay clergy". 

"The Church of England has no right to seek exemption from the anti-discrimination laws that apply to everyone else. Just because the Church of England treats LGBT clergy as second-class Christians this is no excuse for it to impose its anti-gay discrimination on non-church institutions.” 

The case has shone a light on the challenges facing gay Christians, the chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, Tracey Byrne, said.

"Many will naturally be disappointed that Jeremy's claim has been unsuccessful;  this has been an enormously brave and personally costly process for both him and Laurence, for their legal team and many supporters. 

"As hard as is it to hear how gay and lesbian people continue to be treated by the Church, admitting we have a problem, bringing it out into the open as Jeremy's case has done, will be a huge driver for change."

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