Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Court of Appeal rules against gay marriage priest

Court dismisses appeal of Jeremy Pemberton against the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham for discrimination because he contracted a same-sex marriage

The Court of Appeal in London has upheld the decision of the Employment Tribunal, dismissing claims brought by the Rev. Canon Jeremy Pemberton against the Acting Bishop of Nottingham & Southwell that the bishop had discriminated against him by refusing to give him a license as priest due to his having contracted a same-sex marriage.

On 22 March 2018 the Court of Appeals held in its review of Revd Canon Pemberton v Right Revd Richard Inwood [2016] UKEAT 0072/16/0712 that it was “not reasonable” for Mr. Pemberton “to regard his dignity as violated” by the Church of England when it upheld its uncontroverted doctrines on marriage.

“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 Court of Appeal ruled.

On 11 April 2014 Mr. Pemberton, a hospital chaplain in Lincolnshire, became the first serving priest of the Church of England to enter into a same-sex marriage. Weeks after his marriage to Laurence Cuttington was solemnized, Mr. Pemberton, a divorced father of five, applied for an Extra Parochial Ministry License (EPML) to allow him to serve as a chaplain at King’s Mill Hospital in Sutton-in-Ashfield. The Rt. Rev. Richard Inwood, acting diocesan bishop, declined to give him an EPML and revoked his Permission to Officiate for having entered into a same-sex marriage when such an act was contrary to church doctrine and discipline.

King’s Mill Hospital rescinded the employment offer and Mr. Pemberton brought an action alleging discrimination against the bishop in 2015 in the Nottingham employment tribunal. After the tribunal ruled against him, he lodged an appeal with the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Mr. Pemberton alleged the bishop had engaged in unlawful discrimination against him because of his sexual orientation and marriage status, as well as unlawful harassment due to his sexual orientation. In support of his clams he cited section 53 of the 2010 Equality Act which forbids such discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal found that while the act governed Mr. Pemberton’s employment with the hospital, the bishop was exempt from its requirements under schedule 9 paragraph 2 which permits religious organizations to govern their affairs according to their principles. The bishop testified that Mr. Pemberton’s marriage had been incompatible with the doctrine of the Church of England and was grounds for refusing him a license.

The claim of harassment was rejected as being without merit the tribunal held, ruling the facts of the case supported the bishop. If Mr. Pemberton had not entered into a same-sex marriage, he would not have been refused a license by the bishop. As the bishop acted lawfully in refusing him a license, a claim of harassment could not be laid against the bishop.

The 2015 decision by the Nottingham employment tribunal was upheld by the  Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2016. On 22 March 2019 the appeal was dismissed by Lady Justices Gloster and Asplin, and Lord Justice Underhill in the Court of Appeal.

After the decision was handed down, Mr. Pemberton — in 2017 the Diocese of Boga in the Congo rescinded his honorary title of canon in light of his marriage — said he was disappointed by the outcome, arguing the Church of England “has established through this process that it can continue to discriminate legally against some LGBT people in relation to their employment”.

He noted: “An official position that regards the loves and commitments of LGBT people, including clergy, as sinful by definition 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.”

A spokesman for the diocese welcomed the decision.


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