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University of Kent called 'spineless' after agreeing to host Lambeth Conference banning gay spouses

The university of Kent has come under fire for hosting an Anglican conference excluding same-sex couples.

Its Canterbury campus will be the venue for next year's Lambeth Conference, a meeting of bishops and their spouses from around the world which takes place every ten years.

But students have called the decision "shocking" and "spineless" after it emerged gay bishops, who are joining the assembly for the first time, were personally told by the Archbishop of Canterbury that their spouses are banned from the event.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture: Matthew Walker.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Picture: Matthew Walker.

The university has said the conference, which costs £4,950 per person to attend, is lawful because of a loophole in the Equality Act applying to religious organisations.

It has argued that while it would not "apply such a prohibition to any event we were running directly", it has to respect its clients' wishes provided they are legal.

LGBT student Natalie Yoh, 25, who is doing a PhD in biodiversity management, says she feels the university is putting the opportunity to make money through venue hire above its moral values.

"I was shocked that this is happening in Kent, which I have always thought of as an inclusive place," she said.

"I think it would suggest, whether rightly or wrongly, that they are putting their commercial interests above their moral values. Whether or not they have made that decision [not to invite same-sex spouses], they're still choosing to host an event that's being exclusive.

"That's disappointing for the LGBT community, because you don't feel supported by the university.

"I respect the fact that they are within the law. But I'm shocked that they feel it's within the university's values."

The University of Kent will be hosting the 2020 Lambeth Conference
The University of Kent will be hosting the 2020 Lambeth Conference

Exemptions to the Equality Act mean religious organisations are permitted under UK law to exclude same-sex couples from certain activities or services, although some senior bishops have called for a change in the law.

The Lambeth Conference was originally due to take place in 2018, but postponed due to fears that anti-LGBT church leaders would refuse to take part.

Adriana Lowe, 28, who is studying for a PhD in biological anthropology, said she was "absolutely livid".

"A commitment to equality, which the university claims to have, is completely meaningless if they're willing to abandon it the moment someone waves enough money in their face," she said.

"It's completely spineless. I understand all universities are struggling, particularly in the current climate, for money. But when push comes to shove, you can only see what someone's values are when they are tested.

"If they have a commitment to equality, they have to stand up to that even when it means turning down money.

"The argument is that they are worried that certain bishops won't come if same-sex partners come. Then let the homophobes stay at home. If some bishops want to go to a homophobic conference, they should start up their own miserable conference."

Ms Lowe added that with the Church of England unlikely to be able to find an alternative venue for the event, which takes place next July and August, the University should use its leverage to encourage it to change its practices.

Lambeth Palace did not reply to a request for comment, but the Archbishop of Canterbury has previously said that splits within the Anglican church on LGBT issues are "irreconcilable."

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