University of Kent to ‘raise concerns’ with Archbishop of Canterbury over conference banning gay partners
| Updated: 11:25, 25 March 2019
University of Kent bosses are seeking a meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury to raise “concerns” over a conference banning same-sex partners.
Its Canterbury campus will be the venue for the 2020 Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican bishops and their spouses from around the world which takes place once a decade.
But the university, which has hosted the conference since 1978, came under fire last week after it emerged that the partners of gay bishops, who are taking part for the first time, have not been invited.
The decision has sparked widespread criticism from staff, students and members of the public, who called the decision “spineless” and “shocking”.
In a statement, Vice Chancellor Professor Karen Cox, and Sir David Warren, Chair of Council, have since conceded that “exclusion of same sex spouses, on grounds of orientation, would be contrary to the values of the university”.
They added: “The University of Kent is an organisation that is proud of its progressive values, philosophy and record of diversity and inclusion. “We are committed to the creation and support of a balanced, inclusive and diverse community. “We welcome – whether as staff, students, stakeholders or visitors – people of all backgrounds, orientations and communities. Welcome and inclusion are key to who we are.”
It comes days after KentOnline publicised concerns from students that the university was putting “commercial interests above their moral values.”
It had previously said that the conference, which costs £4,950 per person to attend, is lawful because of a loophole in the Equality Act applying to religious organisations and that while it would not “apply such a prohibition to any event we were running directly”, it had to respect its clients’ wishes.
However, it now says “we also believe there are significant ethical concerns raised”, which were discussed at meeting of the University Council, its highest governing body, on Friday.
The university’s management says it will be seeking a meeting with Lambeth Conference organisers, including the Archbishop, to “bring council’s concerns to their attention and discuss the issues.”
It has also guaranteed that accommodation will be made available on campus to any spouses affected by the decision who wish to stay in Canterbury during the conference.
After complaints made by staff, students and others concerned about the reputation of the University of Kent as an inclusive institution; the Vice Chancellor and the Chair of the University Council have decided to re-consider their decision to host the next Lambeth Conference on the Kent University campus.
This does present a real problem for the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose personal invitations have already been sent out to accredited bishops of the Anglican Communion and their spouses – invitations that do not include the spouses of same-sex partnered bishops.
In fact, the ABC – or his representatives – have already advised those same-sex partnered bishops (a distinct minority in the whole communion) that their partners will definitely not be welcome at the conference – even though the partners of their heterosexually-partnered bishop-colleagues have been invited.
This distinction in hospitality is seen – by students staff and members of the public in the U.K., as a blow against the University’s charter of inclusivity, and therefore, an affront to the minority of bishops concerned and their legal spouses.
It will be interesting to see whether – in the light of this public protest – the ABC and the organisers of the Lambeth Conference will react in a way that would satisfy the University’s (and the general public’s) reaction to what is perceived as homophobic attitudes on the part of the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand