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Priest Who Married Same-Sex Partner Sues Church For Sexual Discrimination

REUTERS/Mark Makela

Monday marked the beginning of the lawsuit that Canon Jeremy Pemberton filed against the Church of England for revoking his permission to officiate (PTO) as a priest after his same-sex union.

Same sex marriages were legalized in England in 2013, and shortly thereafter, the House of Bishops responded by barring gay clergymen from marrying someone of the same sex in their Pastoral Guidance on Same Sex Marriage.

Despite this religious injunction, which threatened disciplinary ramifications upon bishops who contravened, Pemberton married his longtime partner Laurence Cunnington in April 2014, the Lincolnshire Echo reports.

“I knew it was going to be controversial,” Pemberton said. “[But] it was a careful, conscientious decision of two people that loved each other and wanted to commit to each other for life.”

Shortly following their wedding ceremony, Pemberton’s offer for the job of Lincoln County Hospital chaplain was rescinded because Bishop Richard Inwood refused to officially license him to officiate in the diocese.

Pemberton is suing the Church under the U.K.’s 2010 Equality Act, claiming the Church of England is denying him his right to work because he is gay and married.

His main argument is that as a hospital chaplain, he is employed by the National Health Services. Therefore, Pemberton’s income would be publicly funded — not by the Church.

“PTO’s are [only] really revoked if someone has done something serious,” Pemberton told the Lincoln Echo. “[If] they’re criminally involved … involved in an affair or have lost their capacity.”

Bishop Inwood’s case, however, is that the priest’s same sex union conflicts with some of the central teachings and beliefs of the Church of England, the Echo reports.

A Church spokesperson told The Guardian that the Church of England owns no partnership in homophobia nor homophobic behavior. And that the Church even supports clergy who are in same sex “civil” marriages, not religious marriages.

However, the Church has also been transparent in enforcing that — in accordance with the Church of England doctrine — partaking in a same sex marriage will inevitably have an impact on a priest’s license to officiate.

“The Church of England’s doctrine on marriage is clear,” the spokesperson said. “The Church quite reasonably expects its clergy to honour their commitment to model and live up to the teachings of the Church.”

“Clergy do not have the option of treating the teachings of the Church as an à la carte menu and only modelling those with which they personally agree.”

The spokesperson also affirmed that the Church of England is “currently involved in a process of shared conversation about a range of issues on sexuality” and that Pemberton’s law suit “risks undermining that process by invoking legislation which does not even apply to this situation.”

Pemberton complains that the Church of England is “completely inconsistent” in their stance on gay marriages “from diocese to diocese.”

But Church has expressed hope for more consistency on their end, and a favorable resolution to the conflict between the Church doctrine and gay marriages in the foreseeable future.

“The introduction of same sex marriage in our country is a new reality and has consequences for the life and discipline of the Church of England,” said the bishops’ Pastoral Guidance.

“[But] we have already committed ourselves to a process of facilitated conversations across the whole Church of England…[because] we believe that Christian understandings of sexuality have a vital contribution to make in our society’s conversation about human flourishing.”

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