Bishop and senior clergyman join calls for Church of England to lose equalities exemptions

The Church of England should lose its protections under the Equalities Act that allow it to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, a bishop and senior clergyman have said today.

Paul Bayes, the bishop of Liverpool, and David Ison, the dean of St Paul's Cathedral, both backed Jeremy Pemberton, a gay priest who was blocked from being a hospital chaplain after marrying his partner. 

They are supporting the Ozanne Foundation, a charity launched on Monday campaigning against discrimination within religious institutions.

Diocese of LiverpoolBishop of Liverpool Paul Bayes

The Church of England is exempt from equality laws meaning it can discriminate on the basis of religion, requiring candidates for certain roles to be Christian. However it can also disrcriminate over sex, sexuality, marital history and gender identity.

'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?,' Bishop Bayes told Christian Today.

'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,' he said, adding it was 'unfortunate' Pemberton had been forced to step down.

'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,'

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.'

David Ison, dean of St Paul's Cathedral, when asked whether he thought the Church should hold onto its protections in the Equalities Act, said: 'No.'

He told Christian Today: '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.'

Jayne Ozanne, an LGBT member of the CofE's ruling general synod, launched the foundation which said it would look 'to create opportunities for meaningful encounters with LGBTI people of faith with those of a more conservative mindset'.

She told Christian Today the Church's equalities exemptions were 'wrong' and needed changing.

'A growing number of people recognise that,' she said. 'It is part of that whole welcome and support that the archbishop talks about. We need to look at how we discriminate. That is a very form which has caused a lot of upset and heartache to a lot of LGBT people like myself.

'I believe the Church should take the initiative, to see the error of our ways. We should be going to the government and saying we wish it to be changed.'

It comes after Alan Wilson, the bishop of Buckingham, said the Church must lose its exemptions to stamp out 'deep structures of abuse, homophobia and sexism'.

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