Ben Bradshaw: It’s ridiculous a gay chaplain can legally be fired for getting married
Labour’s Ben Bradshaw has raised in Parliament the case of a gay Church of England chaplain who was sacked for getting married.
Canon Jeremy Pemberton was the first member of the Church of England clergy to enter into a same-sex marriage, when he wed his partner last year, defying a same-sex marriage ban set down the House of Bishops.
He later had his permission to officiate revoked by a Bishop, which meant he was prevented from continuing to work as an NHS hospital chaplain as he was declined the correct licences. This week an Employment Tribunal ruled the Church’s actions did not constitute discrimination.
The ruling came despite the fact other gay clergy have married without the same punitive action – with married gay vicar Rev Andrew Foreshew-Cain even getting elected to the Church’s main governing body, after defying the exact same rules as Canon Pemberton.
Raising the issue in Parliament, Labour MP Ben Bradshaw asked Church Commissioner Caroline Spelman MP – the representative of the Church in the Commons – to disclose how much the Church of England had spent on the employment tribunal.
The Tory MP responded: “I am unable to answer the question about the cost of that case, because it is still litigation in progress and we are currently in the period when the claimant may appeal the tribunal’s decision.”
Mr Bradshaw said: “I very much hope that the claimant does appeal.
“Do we not have a right as members of the Church of England to know exactly how much our Church has spent in our name to persecute this excellent priest?
“He has been stopped from being a hospital chaplain, a job which by all accounts he did superbly, because of the discriminatory approach of the Church of England.
“Particularly when we are celebrating the democratic election of the first openly gay married priest to the General Synod, this is a ridiculous situation.”
Mrs Spelman responded: “I come back to my point that the litigation is still in progress, and at the moment there is therefore no definitive sum that I can make transparent in the House.
“This is an ongoing matter. The Church Commissioners do not seek to incur legal bills, but the action was initiated by the litigant in this case.
“It is important to say that there will be a variety of views in the Church of England on the doctrine of marriage, and the Church has encouraged a conversation within the Church about that.”
Labour MP Sharon Hodgson added: “The Church of England has made many strides forward in the acceptance of gay unions among its clergy, especially in the acceptance of civil partnerships.
“As we have heard, despite that evolution, there are clear discrepancies in how the Church treats gay clergy who enter into a civil marriage.
“Will the right hon Lady therefore speak to Church leaders to resolve such matters so that gay clergy do not feel discriminated against when it comes to practising their faith by devoting their life to God, while also marrying the person they love.”
Mrs Spelman continued: “In respect to the specific case referred to in the question, the employment tribunal’s findings are known: it did not find in favour of Canon Pemberton.
“As I mentioned earlier, the important point is that the bishops themselves have initiated a two-year process of conversations about the Church’s approach to human sexuality. That process is underway, and it is for all of us to be involved with it.”
Humanists, LGBT campaigners and liberal activists within the Church have already voiced extreme concern about the Church’s actions and the tribunal ruling.
Jeremy Pemberton tied the knot with his partner last year.
Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell warned yesterday: “This decision sets three dangerous precedents: that the Church of England is exempt from the laws prohibiting workplace discrimination; that it is entitled to discriminate against gay clergy who have been lawfully married in a civil ceremony; and that it can lawfully dictate to non-religious institutions, such as the NHS, who they can employ.
“This contradicts the principles of the Equality Act 2010. It gives a green light to Bishops across Britain to witch-hunt married gay clergy.
“This strikes me as a clear case of employment discrimination. The Church of England has no right to seek exemption from the anti-discrimination laws that apply to everyone else.
He continued: “It is disgraceful homophobia to deprive a priest of his right to work because he married the man he loves. Discrimination is not a Christian value.