PinkNews.co.uk exclusive

The controversy surrounding Canterbury Christ Church University’s ban on same-sex unions on its premises has taken a new turn.

Documents obtained by PinkNews.co.uk show that a decision was taken as recently as last December, contradicting the recent press release from the institution’s Vice-Chancellor.

The university is a teacher training college for the Church of England, and its Chancellor is the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

The row began with the university’s decision last year to ban same-sex couples from using two if its venues for civil partnership ceremonies, despite continuing to allow heterosexual couples to use the venues for weddings.

Staff at the university were only made aware of the governing body’s secret ruling late last year, with some even suggesting that the original decision to ban partnership ceremonies was not taken with the entire governing body’s approval.

Professor Michael Wright, the Vice-Chancellor responsible for the decision, told PinkNews.co.uk last week that:

“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.”

But it has now emerged that a decision to uphold the ban was taken at the governing body’s meeting in early December.

PinkNews.co.uk has obtained a minute-by-minute document detailing the December 5th meeting, at which attempts were made by the Chair of the Governors to persuade the governing body to extend the decision to ban same-sex unions until the Sexual Orientation Regulations come into force this spring.

The disapproval amongst the academic staff over the gay ban was also discussed at the meeting.

However, the governors decided that despite the impending legal threat for any venues choosing to ban same-sex partnerships, the status quo would remain, with a review of the situation after the legislation comes into force this spring. Then, a ‘full and open debate’ by the governors will take place.

In addition, Professor Wright made no mention of the University’s Equal Opportunities policy which he is supposed to uphold – and the source of unrest amongst his academic staff – or of the debate that had taken place within the campus.

The Vice-Chancellor also downplayed the strength of feeling around the University.

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.”

Pinknews.co.uk has also learnt of a subsequent meeting of the University’s Equality and Diversity Committee which wholeheartedly rejected the governors’ position, and argued that their decision to uphold the ban made a mockery of the university’s policy.

At the same meeting, it was suggested that the attempt to secretly undermine University policy and persuade governors to do the same was an abuse of power.

The opinion was expressed that those who lacked the courage to oppose the governors or university policies ought to resign.

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, trades union 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,” he said.

Gay rights activist 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.”