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Bishop allowed to withhold licence from canon

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A bishop could withhold licence from a canon who entered same-sex marriage.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has confirmed that a bishop could refuse to grant an officiating licence to an ordained, Church of England priest on the grounds of his same-sex marriage.

The facts touch on some of the fictional experiences of the characters Todd and Billy portrayed in a recent Coronation Street story line. The Court of Appeal decision highlights one of the exceptions to anti-discrimination laws. 

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 (the Act) protects people from discrimination on various grounds. The Act sets out prescribed characteristics which are protected including grounds such as race, religion, sex, sexual orientation and civil marriage status. There are, however, some limited exceptions to the Act where employers may take what appears to be discriminatory action based on the protected characteristics where the employee's job so requires. In effect, a person's prescribed characteristic can exclude them from particular jobs where there is a specific "occupational requirement". This is what happened in the case of Revd Pemberton v Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham.

What happened in this case? 

In this case, the canon entered into a same-sex, civil marriage with his long-term partner. He was aware that the marriage was not in keeping with the Anglican teachings and rules. As a result, the bishop revoked his 'Permission to Officiate" (PTO) and refused to grant him an additional licence which the canon needed to apply for a post as chaplain at an NHS hospital.

The canon claimed the bishop's action amounted to unlawful, direct discrimination against him on the grounds of his sexual orientation and/or marital statues and harassment due to his sexual orientation. He took his claim to an employment tribunal. At the tribunal, the bishop relied on an exception to the Equality Act 2010 arguing that the canon's civil marriage was not in keeping with Church teachings. The tribunal found in the bishop's favour and upheld his decision.

The canon appealed to the Court of Appeal but, here too, the bishop's decision was upheld as legal and within the legal exemption. The context of the canon's situation was important: he had been aware that he was defying Church doctrine when entering into the civil partnership. Complying with Church doctrine was an essential occupational requirement of being a chaplain. The distress caused to the canon did not amount to harassment as the bishop had acted lawfully.


If you have been the subject of discrimination or to discuss discrimination issues arising in employment, please contact Susan Mayall on 0161 684 6948 or make an enquiry.

Further information

For more information about what it's like to go to an employment tribunal, click here.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal decision can be found here: Revd Pemberton v Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham.



Posted 25 January 2017


Please note that the information and opinions contained in this article are not intended to be comprehensive, nor to provide legal advice. No responsibility for its accuracy or correctness is assumed by Pearson Solicitors and Financial Advisers Ltd or any of its members or employees. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking, or refraining from taking, any action as a result of this article.

This blog was posted some time ago and its contents may now be out of date. For the latest legal position relating to these issues, get in touch with the author - or make an enquiry now.

Written by Susan Mayall


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