Gay priest says need for 'revolution' in Church of England after losing appeal

A gay priest blocked from working as a hospital chaplain after marrying his partner has stressed the "need for revolution" in the Church of England.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton said LGBT people "continue to wait for real change" in the Church's attitudes towards them after he lost a Court of Appeal challenge over claims he suffered discrimination.

In a statement after the court's ruling on Thursday, he said: "The Church of England has established through this process that it can continue to discriminate legally against LGBT people in relation to their employment, even where that employment is not within the boundaries of the church's jurisdiction.

"This will seem to most people in the UK today an extraordinary result, and not one that will help commend the claims of Christ to the nation.

"An official position that regards the loves and commitments of LGBT people, including clergy, as sinful, is years overdue for thorough-going revision.

"The need for a revolution in attitudes and practices in the Church towards this minority is still acute - we continue to wait for real change."

Canon Pemberton, a priest for more than 30 years, had his permission to officiate revoked after he married Laurence Cunnington in April 2014.

He was also denied a licence to officiate in the diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, which left him unable to take up a job offer at the King's Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield.

He brought claims of discrimination and harassment against the former acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Rt Rev Richard Inwood, but these were rejected by both the employment tribunal and the employment appeal tribunal.

The vicar renewed his fight at London's Court of Appeal, where his lawyers argued that the tribunal decisions should be overturned.

Canon Jeremy Pemberton (David Mirzoeff/PA)
Canon Jeremy Pemberton (David Mirzoeff/PA)

But, in a written ruling on Thursday, Lord Justice Underhill and two other judges found the bishop's decision was lawful under the Equality Act.

The judge said he understood how "profoundly upsetting" the Church's stance on same-sex marriage, and its impact on him, must be for Canon Pemberton.

However he concluded it was "not reasonable for him to regard his dignity as violated" by the Church applying its "sincerely-held beliefs in a way permitted by the law.

He added: "If you belong to an institution with known, and lawful, rules, it implies no violation of dignity, and it is not cause for reasonable offence, that those rules should be applied to you - however wrong you may believe them to be.

"Not all opposition of interests is hostile or offensive."

The judges found the Church's stance on same-sex marriage was clearly set out in its doctrines and it therefore did not need to make an "express provision" banning priests from entering such a marriage.

Canon Pemberton, who is now a civil celebrant, said he was grateful for the court's expertise, but "naturally disappointed" with the ruling.

He said he hoped to be allowed to return to active ministry in future and had agreed with the Church that he would not pursue his case any further.

Paying tribute to Mr Cunnington, he added: "He has been rock-like and constant in his support and love in this, as in all things.

"I cannot thank him enough for the honour he does me in being my husband."

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