Auckland Bishop Ross Bay admits the denial of a man in a same-sex relationship from starting a priesthood training course could be seen as discrimination in the Anglican Church because he has relicensed existing priests in same-sex relationships.
Eugene Sisneros, 38, claims he has not been allowed to take an Anglican pre-priesthood or discernment process to prepare him for priest studies because of his relationship status.
The Gay and Lesbian Clergy Anti-Discrimination Society (GLCADS) brought the a Human Rights Tribunal hearing against Mr Bay to find out if his decision to deny Mr Sisneros is in breach of the Human Rights Act.
Mr Bay, who gave evidence today, said that Anglican Church canons only allow people in a chaste relationship – defined as a heterosexual marriage or celibacy – to become priests. Mr Sisneros says his relationship is akin to marriage.
However, under questioning by GLCADS' lawyer David Ryken, Mr Bay admitted he had relicensed at least one priest in Auckland who was in a same-sex relationship.
"I'm aware of at least one," he says. "I've made a personal decision as bishop to allow those positions to be held."
He admits that it could be seen as discrimination that others in same-sex relationships are not allowed to take a priest course.
"Yes I'm sure in practice it is the reality for some people."
Mr Bay says he would accept any changes in church doctrine to allow people in same-sex marriages to become priests.
"My personal view is that I'm open to change in this matter - should change become a reality, I have no personal opposition to these obligations."
But he says at present he is wary of ordaining new priests who are in same-sex relationships because the Anglican Church's view of the matter has not been decided.
"I believe it's to do with the best way of upholding doctrine in the current context we're in."
Mr Bay says he doesn't want Mr Sisneros to start the training process if there is a high likelihood it would lead to a "dead end".
"I know the depth of disappointment a person has if the church says no, which is compounded if their hopes are raised."
Mr Bay says to his knowledge there have not been any challenges in the Auckland diocese to the ordination of priests who are in same-sex relationships.
A priest in a same-sex relationship from Dunedin, Juan Kinnear, told the tribunal of his experiences becoming a priest in New Zealand and believed his relationship had not been a problem.
"My understanding is Bishop [of Otago] George Connor wouldn't have ordained me had he believed that my life did not adhere to the requirements as set out by the church."
However, Archbishop of New Zealand Philip Richardson has also given evidence today saying Anglican rules currently do not allow for people in de facto relationships of any kind to be ordained as priests.
"This is not currently possible under the regulations and consequently the Bishop of Auckland's actions were correct."
However he says there is ongoing discussion within the Anglican Church about whether there could be changes to allow people in same-sex relationships to become priests.