Academics at Canterbury Christ Church University are angry about a possible ban on civil partnership ceremonies being conducted on university premises.
A meeting of the institution’s branch of trades union UCU on Tuesday called on the three administrators who have proposed the ban to withdraw it or resign.
The university is a teacher training college for the Church of England, and its Chancellor is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.
Marriage ceremonies already take place at the university’s premises in Tunbridge Wells and Canterbury.
Dr Dennis Hayes, Branch Secretary and joint National President of UCU, said he is concerned about wider discrimination and the implications for academic freedom:
“When the most powerful men in an institution promote a decision that denies equal rights to gays and lesbians, by stopping all civil partnerships rather than allowing single-sex couples the right to a civil union, this is an act of discrimination that no person interested in equality can be silent about.
“What would they say if a member of staff refused to run a class to avoid teaching gays and lesbians? They’d probably be fired.”
Professor Michael Wright the university’s Vice Chancellor, said:
“Canterbury Christ Church University has allowed civil marriage ceremonies to be conducted on its premises in Canterbury and Tunbridge Wells for some years.
“As the law will soon require all premises offering civil marriage ceremonies to also offer civil partnership ceremonies, the University’s governing body has been discussing its future policy.
“A full debate will take place at the governing body’s meeting in March to make a final decision.
“Canterbury Christ Church University has explicitly confirmed via its policies and actions that it welcomes those of all faiths and none irrespective of gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity.”
It is thought that at the meeting in March the governing body will decide to either ban all marriage ceremonies or accept civil partnerships.
The new Sexual Orientation Regulations, due before Parliament this month, will outlaw discrimination against gay people when accessing goods, services, and facilities such as venues for civil partnerships.
Professor Tony Booth, UCU Branch Equality Officer, claims the decision was motivated by the Anglican belief that homosexuality is incompatible with the bible.
“When challenged about this, the Vice-Chancellor attempted to justify it by stating that the Church of England did not allow civil partnerships on any of its premises but had to retract this when it became clear that the Church did not in fact own the buildings,” he said.
Peter Tatchell told PinkNews.co.uk:”The university authorities are acting defiance of their own equal opportunities policy, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. They are sending a signal to the university staff and students that homophobic discrimination is acceptable.
“Religious belief should never be used an alibi for prejudice. I don’t see any evidence of Christian love and kindness in this decision. I hope the university’s academic and student associations will take legal action to overturn the ban.”