Included in the statement issued just now by the House of Bishops is the following paragraph (emphasis added):
“Among the matters to be considered in the review of the 2005 Statement there is one of some importance which the House did not address in advance of any experience of civil partnerships. This is whether clergy who have registered civil partnerships should be eligible for nomination to the episcopate. The House has concluded that it would be wrong to pre-empt the outcome of the review and that clergy in civil partnerships should not at present, therefore, be nominated for episcopal appointment. The House’s intention is to complete the review, which will need to take account of the legal analysis set out in GS MISC 992 (Choosing Bishops – the Equality Act) during 2012.
As regular TA readers will be aware, the Church of England recently issued “a note on the Equality Act prepared by the Legal Office in connection with episcopal appointments for members of Crown Nominations Commissions and diocesan bishops and their Advisory Groups”. This is the document numbered GS Misc 992.
In connection with this, I wrote last week to Church House to ask some questions about GS Misc 992. One question was this:
Third, there is the issue of being in a civil partnership as a specific item to be taken into account. See paragraph 29, second bullet, and also see paragraph 20, where this is distinguished ( by the conjunction “or”) from “a requirement related to sexual orientation”.
These wordings suggest that the authors of the opinion believe it is permissible to discriminate against a person who is in a civil partnership even if none of the other items listed in the document are applicable. I am at a loss to understand the legal basis for such a position, unless all married candidates are to be similarly discriminated against.
I received this in reply:
This was a piece of legal advice and the Legal Office stand by it as an accurate piece of analysis of the Equality Act and its application to the Church. It was produced to help those appointing bishops understand what they are and are not entitled to take into account within the law. In particular the Equality Act is quite explicit in making it clear that religious organisations can, in certain carefully defined circumstances, discriminate on the grounds of someone being in a civil partnership. The note offers no policy or operational advice on what appointment panel should do.