First Gay Vicar to Marry Same Sex Partner Is Now Suing Church of England for Discrimination

York Minster Church of England Reuters

A Church of England clergyman who wed his male partner will have to wait until next year to find out whether his attempts to sue the church for unlawful discrimination have been successful. Jeremy Pemberton, who lost his job as an NHS chaplain when the local Bishop withdrew his licence to officiate, was the first ordained minister to defy church rules and marry his same sex partner. Others have since followed.

Pemberton decided to take the church to a tribunal after Richard Inwood, the acting bishop of Southwell and Nottinghamshire, refused him a licence to officiate causing the offer of a job as chaplain for Sherwood Forest hospitals NHS Trust to be withdrawn in April. He was also unable to take up another job with the NHS, as he does not hold the correct licences.

Consequently, Pemberton, who still works as a chaplain for an NHS trust in Lincolnshire, has argued that he was unlawfully discriminated against.

Commenting on his decision to bring the case, he said: “I am deeply saddened that I have had to take this step against church authorities. However, I feel I have been left with little choice, having found myself being punished and discriminated against simply for exercising my right to marry. I will be making no further comment until these matters have been resolved through the court process.”

Bishop Inwood gave evidence at the tribunal, held at the Nottingham Justice Centre, calling Pemberton’s marriage “sinful and unwholesome.”

Pemberton, a divorced father of five, wed his partner Laurence Cunnington in April 2014, just a few weeks after the legalisation of gay marriage in England and Wales. In doing so, the gay vicar went against clear guidance from the House of Bishops, who, in February of last year had issued updated guidance in light of legislation stating that gay marriage is “clearly at odds” with religious teachings, and underscored that clergy members should “exemplify in their life the teachings of the church.”

In a statement released in June, the Church commented: “The Church of England supports gay men and women who serve as clergy in its parishes, dioceses and institutions. Jeremy Pemberton is one of many who currently serve and receive that support. The Church has no truck with homophobia and supports clergy who are in civil partnerships.

“The Church of England’s doctrine on marriage is clear. 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 a la carte menu and only modelling those with which they personally agree.

“The Church is currently involved in a process of shared conversations about a range of issues on sexuality in regions across the country. It is regrettable that this case risks undermining that process by invoking legislation which does not even apply to this situation.”

On Tuesday, the court heard final submissions from both parties. Thomas Linden QC, representing the church, said: “The state should not be saying to a religious organisation you can or can’t choose this person as your priest.

“The tribunal should say it’s clear on the evidence what the church thinks of same sex marriage.”

Sean Jones, representing Pemberton, said the church would not have had a problem with the union had it been a civil partnership. “They are saying it’s not the substance, it’s the label. [The doctrine of marriage as one man and one woman] was not drawn up to prohibit same-sex marriage.”

He questioned why the church, which does not take issue with civil partnerships, would change its stance now that a different type of “civil union which the state calls marriage” has been introduced.

A verdict is not expected until next year.


Follow Donna Rachel Edmunds on Twitter: or e-mail to: