Bishops reject calls to vote on Sexual Orientation Regulations

By staff writers
22 Mar 2007

Just 3 out of the 26 unelected bishops that sit in the House of Lords voted last night over the government's Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) apparently resisting calls from conservatives and traditionalists that they should all turn up to oppose them.

Forty-two lay members of the Church of England's General Synod wrote to the bishops last week urging them to turn up and vote against the SORs.

In the end, even if all the bishops had voted, it would not have changed the result.

After a two and a half hour debate, a motion to get the proposed legislation thrown out, tabled by Conservative peer Baroness O'Cathain’s, was defeated by 168 votes to 122, a safe majority of 46.

Only three bishops voted - the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Bishop of Winchester, and the Archbishop of York.

This was one more than turned up to vote last week on the future of Britain's constitution, which would decide amongst other things, the future of the Bishops in Parliament's Second Chamber.

All three bishops voted in favour of Baroness O'Cathain’s amendment, signalling their opposition to the Sexual Orientation Regulations. However in January when there was another vote in which five bishops turned out to vote, The Rt Rev Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester, voted in favour of the Regulations.

In their letter, the members of the General Synod who urged all 26 bishops to vote, wrote; “Given the great significance of this vote, many people would understand that the responsibility that Bishops undertake as members of the House of Lords requires them on such occasions to vary their crowded timetable in order to attend the debate.

Anthony Archer, author of the letter and a member of the Crown Nominations Committee had said that this had been "a rare opportunity for all bishops to unite around this subject" and that it was "an outstanding moment for them to make a clear statement about their role in the House of Lords."

Speaking after the House of Lords vote on the Sexual Orientation Regulations, Jonathan Bartley, co-director of the thinktank Ekklesia said; "Many Christians, including some evangelicals, supported the Sexual Orientation Regulations, and it is quite clear that by no means all bishops were opposed to them.

"But at a time when their unelected place in the House of Lords is in question, particularly after the Common's vote for a completely elected Second Chamber, it was unlikely that bishops would turn up in significant numbers. If they did, and it had a significant bearing on the outcome, it would have undoubtedly increased calls for their removal from the House of Lords.

"The whole episode however raises even more questions about the role and legitimacy of 26, all male, unelected, bishops from just one religious grouping, sitting in the middle of a Parliamentary democracy."

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