The University of Kent has found itself in the middle of homosexuality row, after defending its position excluding same-sex spouses from attending an Angelican conference next year.
The Lambeth Conference, a decadal assembly of bishops from the Anglican Communion, is scheduled to be hosted in 2020 on the Canterbury campus, but Justin Welby, current Archbishop of Canterbury, has come under fire from groups for personally contacting several gay bishops and warning them not to bring their significant other.
One of those bishops was the head of the New York Episcopal, Mary Glasspool who was warned by Welby not to bring her partner of 30 years, Becki Sandler, stating that her wife was “shocked, hurt and enraged”.
Other bishops were warmed by the decision made by the head of the Church of England, including Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, secretary-general of the Anglican Communion. In a blog post back in February of this year, Idowu-Fearon wrote: “[T]o take account of the Anglican Communion’s position on marriage, which is that it is the lifelong union of a man and a woman.”
He later added that “It would be inappropriate for same-sex spouses to be invited to the conference”.
UK Anti-discrimination laws permits bodies exemptions to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people on the basis of religion, though many bishops have called for the loophole to be abolished completely.
In a statement, a university press officer defended the decision to host the £4,950-a-head event through its commercial hire service.
It write: “It is our understanding that The Lambeth Conference, in running its conference, can rely on an exemption within the Equality Act 2010 which applies to religious organisations.
“The exemption means that the organisation would not be in breach of the Act by imposing the prohibition and that it is legally entitled to do so.
“While we would not apply such a prohibition to any event we were running directly, we have to respect clients’ rights providing they are lawful and justifiable should they wish to exercise a legal right which is open to them.”
It goes on to say that the event “is in line with those previously held with the organisation over the past 40 years”.
“If we, the University, were running the conference, we would not apply this prohibition under any circumstance.
“We have a clear commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity and fairness in all areas of its organisation, including race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, faith, social and educational background, nationality, marital status and family or care responsibilities.
“We value diversity, and demonstrate that value and respect to our staff, students, clients, community and the wider public by ensuring that our policies are inclusive to all and are implemented fully and effectively.”
Kent Union responded: “We are deeply disappointed that the Lambeth Conference has decided to exclude same-sex spouses from its 2020 conference. This is not a value that we expect to see on campus and we are committed to championing inclusivity in all events.
"We appreciate that the University has a commercial arm to its operations and we understand that the Lambeth Conference may be relying on a legal exemption in the Equality Act 2010 to support its stance.
“However, we believe any externally organised event which occurs on campus should respect the diversity of both students and staff, the values of the University, Kent Union and the environment that they want to utilise. We believe that the University should ensure this at all times. We are asking students to send us their views on the issue and presenting these to the University and we will be writing to the Lambeth Conference, where our efforts need to be focused, urging them to change their stance.”
In a joint statement, the LGBT+ Part-Time officers at Kent Union said they were “extremely disappointed in the university’s decision to host this event and find their attempts at justification wholly inadequate”.
They added: “Nobody should be excluded from attending any event due to their gender identity or sexuality and we advocate strongly that the university reverses their decision. The university has a moral obligation to show that it is an inclusive organisation and hosting events such as this undermines how welcome LGBT+ students feel at our university.”
On Friday, the University of Kent held a Council meeting, where the matter was discussed at length and concluded that "exclusion of same sex spouses, on grounds of orientation, would be contrary to the values of the University."
"Council determined that the University shall ensure that accommodation will be available on campus for those spouses affected by this decision who wish to be in Canterbury with their partners during the conference period. The University welcomes them and affirms its belief in, and commitment to, diversity and inclusivity."