Page last updated at 19:44 GMT, Thursday, 11 February 2010

Synod votes to give gay clergy equal pension rights

The general synod
The synod is the ruling body of the Church of England

The ruling body of the Church of England has voted in favour of extending equal pension rights to the civil partners of deceased clergy.

The move by the general synod will give civil partners the same rights as heterosexual widows or widowers.

Previously, partners of gay clergy were allowed benefits, but only in respect of service since 2005 when civil partnerships were first legalised.

Gay clergy are accepted by the Church on the condition they are celibate.

Those in active gay relationships are still banned.

Pension deficit

The Reverend Mark Bratton, from Coventry, argued in the synod on Thursday that the existing rules were unfair and that many gay partners provided invaluable support in the life of their parish.

"The injustice of the current arrangement is obvious," he said.

"The benefit to the reputation of the Church of remedying this injustice will be great, and I believe, inversely proportional to the small cost."

The Reverend Jeffrey John
The Reverend Jeffrey John was embroiled in a row over his sexuality

His motion was passed despite some concerns over the Church's pension deficit - said to be as much as £360m - and the ongoing controversy surrounding gay bishops.

In 2003, the Reverend Jeffrey John said he had been forced to step down as Bishop of Reading - despite insisting his gay relationship was celibate - because of the "damage" his consecration might cause to the unity of the Church.

And just this week, the synod heard a plea for recognition from breakaway Anglican dioceses in the United States which have split from the mainstream Church over the ordination of gay bishops.

The Rev Mark Bratton stressed that, for him, extending pension parity was a point of fairness.

But the BBC's John McManus, who was at the synod, said outsiders could be forgiven for being confused as to where Anglicanism really stood on homosexuality.

'Undermining our mission'

A series of other speakers backed the motion, including Canon Giles Goddard, from London.

He said the perception that the Church was homophobic was "deeply undermining our mission as Christians".

Simon Baynes, a lay member from St Albans, said he had been "struck" by the case of the Rev Jeffrey John in particular.

"If Jeffrey died, his partner of over 30 years would receive £3,370 per annum," he said.

"But if, instead of being in a partnership for 30 years, Jeffrey had been married for just a few days before he died, his widow would receive £7,550 per annum."

The synod rejected a proposed amendment to the motion, which would have seen pensions extended to siblings who had devoted their lives to caring for a brother or sister who was a member of the clergy.

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