The relationship between the Draft Bishops and Priests (Consecration and Ordination of Women) Measure and the Equality Act 2010 was considered during the recent General Synod:
The Church Times reported that
The Second Church Estates Commissioner, Tony Baldry MP, said that it would be his task to steer the legislation through the House of Commons. In his constituency, many of the senior posts in the county were held by women. “I see no reason why, when there is a vacancy, the Bishop of Dorchester or the Bishop of Oxford should not be a woman. . . Let’s do it soon.” However, the Church of England was a broad Church.
The vote on the legislation on women bishops which would be presented to Parliament would be a free vote in which the views of individual MPs mattered. The equality agenda now played strongly across all parties, and there were now a record number of women MPs. The difficult task of steering through the legislation would be impossible “if there is a scintilla of a suggestion that women bishops are in some way second-class bishops”.
Robert Key, the former MP, spoke later, and opposed the inclusion of Clause 7 of the Measure.
The Church Times reported as follows:
Mr Tattersall warned that the consequences of not agreeing to Clause 7 (Equality Act exceptions), which had been introduced in order to comply with the Equality Act, would be that the Measure could be found to be in conflict with that legislation, and so would be “legally deficient”. The Equality Act had been drawn more narrowly than the Equality Bill had originally been drawn; so the new legislation was necessary to prevent any possible conflict with the Act, the committee had been advised.
Robert Key (Salisbury) had given notice that he wanted to speak against Clause 7. He said that the Bishop of Durham was, “of course, wholly wrong: the Church of England cannot act wholly in its own interest.” God spoke not just to the Synod, but also to Parliament. The evidence he had seen was that Clause 7 was not a proportionate and reasonable approach and his view was that it would fail in the courts. The law of the land would apply to everyone except Christians.
The Ecclesiastical Committee of Parliament had to ensure that the Church respected the constitutional rights of all the population.
Mr Key elaborated his position in this video interview with Ruth Gledhill: Should Church of England be exempt from Equality law?
I wrote a news article for the Church Times recently which gave some of the background on this, see Equality Law will affect church appointments.
I am going to write a further and more detailed explanation soon.