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University of Kent to 'raise concerns' with Archbishop of Canterbury over conference banning gay partners

By Anna MacSwan

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.

University Vice Chancellor Karen Cox. Picture: Beth Roo
University Vice Chancellor Karen Cox. Picture: Beth Roo

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".

The 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."

The University of Kent has received widespread criticism for hosting the Lambeth Conference
The University of Kent has received widespread criticism for hosting the Lambeth Conference
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby

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.

What do you think? Email kentishgazette@thekmgroup.co.uk.

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