Why the government must act on women bishops

The decision of the Church of England to reject to entry of Women bishops has predictably prompted calls for government intervention. Quite rightly there is aversion to interfering with the internal theological disputes of a religion but the constitutional reality of the established church in England simply does not allow for ‘a live and let live’ policy.

The suggestion of Chris Bryant, the shadow Borders and Immigration minister and a former Church of England Priest that the government should bring in a moratorium on the appointment of male bishops is not as perverse as it may first appear. With 26 Lords Spiritual in the House of Lords this is not just an issue that can be left to the church legislature itself for its decision has a direct effect on the composition of the upper chamber which is an arm of the State.

Although it is true, for good reason, that the Equality Act provides certain exemptions for religious organisations but the same does not apply to the government. In not directly interfering in a system that prohibits those voting on UK legislation being a certain sex and further skewing the disproportionate preponderance of males in the upper house it is nigh impossible to see how this is not indirectly discriminatory and inconsistent with its public sector equality duty. And that this is allowed to happen means this is not just an issue for the Church of England but for each and every citizen as our laws and the conduct of government is being scrutinised by a legislature formed by discriminatory practices.

Personally, I think the most prudent way out of this mess is the disestablishment of the Church of England but whatever the way out if the House of Lords is to remain give at least a pretence of being a democratic and inclusive chamber the government must act to end the discrimination in so far as it impacts on the public conduct of the Lords Spiritual.


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