Lords probe Church on same-sex marriage clergy

Church of England Clergy in same-sex marriage

In the House of Lords on 30 July, the Rt Hon. the Lord Fowler, (Con) initiated a short debate with the question[30 July 2014 Vol 755 Col 1583]:

“To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are satisfied with the enactment and operation of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013”.

to which Baroness Northover (LD) responded:

“My Lords, the first marriages of same-sex couples took place on 29 March—sooner than we had originally thought possible. We intend to bring the remaining elements of the Act into force on 10 December, enabling couples in a civil partnership to convert it into a marriage, and couples to stay married, if they wish to do so, when one or both of them changes legal gender..”

However, in a follow-up question, Lord Fowler stated:

“I congratulate the Government on their progress but perhaps I could raise one point. Canon Jeremy Pemberton married his partner in April, as a result of which he has had his permission to work as a priest in Nottinghamshire revoked and been banned from seeking a new post as a chaplain and bereavement manager. Given that there are other clergymen at similar risk, will the Minister, as a matter of goodwill, look at the position and see whether anything can be done to help reconcile the difficulties?”

In response, Baroness Northover said:

“ . . . . My noble friend will know that the Bill sought to protect the position of religious organisations and that this is a matter for the Church of England. We hear what he says, and it is worth also bearing in mind that things can evolve. For example, it is good that we should soon see women bishops.”

to which The Lord Bishop of Sheffield added:

“My Lords, I thank the Minister for her affirmation that according to both the letter and the spirit of the legislation on same-sex marriage, it is for the Church of England and all faith communities to determine their doctrine and what is appropriate conduct for their clergy. Is the Minister aware that the recent guidelines of the House of Bishops state clearly that those who enter a same-sex marriage, together with children in their care, should be welcomed into the life of worshiping communities, and also that the Church of England is about to begin a two-year process of structured conversations to explore the changing attitudes to human sexuality and their implications for the life of the church and its disciplines?”

Noting the nature of these responses, (rather than a reply to the question), Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab) commented:

“My Lords, the Minister set out very clearly the Government’s intentions as far as the implementation of the Act is concerned. It was very reassuring to hear from the right reverend Prelate the current views of the church. However, I do not think that either she or—if I may say with respect—he addressed the question that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised about the loss of employment that followed this incident. Can the Minister say anything further about the application, for example, of the Equality Act or any employment Act in situations where people lose their job over their sexuality?”

Those with an interest in these issues will be disappointed with these answers, for which no further clarification was offered.  However, for the record, the uncorrected minutes of the remainder of the debate contain the following exchanges:

Baroness Northover: As the noble Baroness may remember, the protections given to various religions in the equal marriage Act protect them in this regard from the operation of the Equality Act. It is up to the Church of England, but I note what the right reverend Prelate said.

Lord Elton (Con): My Lords, to clarify the position for Church of England clergy during the next two years, will my noble friend confirm that clergy in civil partnerships are able to carry out their ministry in the normal way?

Baroness Northover: I think I need to write to the noble Lord to clarify exactly what the situation is at the moment within the Church of England—but again, it is a matter for the Church of England.

Conversion of civil partnerships to marriage

Further to the Statutory Instruments on the conversion of civil partnership that were tabled for debate on 29 July, reviewed here, Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab) said [30 July 2014 Vol 755 Column 1583]

 “ . . .  Although they made the administrative process easy, they failed to recognize that many in a civil partnership would wish to celebrate their marriage in the same way as all other same-sex couples have since March. I know that the noble Baroness understands the importance of setting the date. Will she therefore update the House on when the revised regulations will be published and tabled for debate? Perhaps on this occasion she could even offer to share a draft before they are tabled. Will she reassure us that they will still come into force on 10 December?”

To which Baroness Northover responded

“We are indeed determined that the regulations will be in place by 10 December so that civil partnerships can be converted to marriages. As the noble Lord will remember, in the consultation prior to the Act, the emphasis that came through from people feeding in their views on this was that they wanted to make sure that their civil partnership was properly marked and could be translated into an equal marriage. They wanted that to be as straightforward as possible with as few hurdles as possible. That was what was built into the Bill.

As the noble Lord will know, since then some people have felt that they want to mark that transition. He will also know that the Bill and regulations allow ceremonies to be associated, but they want to make that link closer. We are determined to try to make sure that everything that people want in this situation can be done within the complexity that he is familiar with within the Bill. Indeed, we are determined to deliver this by 10 December, and we are happy to discuss those draft regulations.”

Comment

The gentle probing in today’s debate, and the view that it is up to the CofE to address such issues, contrasts with the attitude of parliament towards the Church of England in the debates, PQs &c which followed the General Synod’s defeat on 20 November 2012 of the draft legislation to allow women to become bishops.  Furthermore, the parliamentary record indicates that during this session of parliament, Sir Tony Baldry has not been required to respond or give a written answer on the marriage of clergy to their same-sex partners.

Postscript

The BBC’s take on the debate was the headline Stop Church sacking gay vicars who marry, says senior Tory followed by the summary “[t]he government should consider intervening to stop the Church of England sacking gay vicars who marry, a former Conservative chairman has said”.

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