The Guardian dont like it - but equality means showing respect to peoples rights to say NO to things that infringe their beliefs, as well as forcing them to accept all other lifestyles as equivalent.
Terry Sanderson guardian.co.uk, Friday July 11, 2008 Article historyIn a decision with potentially disastrous implications for the government's equality agenda (not to mention the idea of a secular society), an employment tribunal has upheld a claim from a Christian registrar that she suffered direct discrimination after she was "bullied" and "harassed" for refusing to conduct civil partnerships for gay couples.
The ruling appears to place the religious "conscience" of registrars above their legal duty to carry out parliament's legislation. If it is not overturned on appeal, and it sets a precedent, where could it lead? Will other public servants be permitted to refuse services on the grounds that their religion does not permit them to approve of their clients lifestyles?
Firemen refusing to rescue co-habiting couples from burning buildings? Doctors refusing to treat people with HIV? Police officers refusing to come to the aid of unmarried mothers?
Lillian Ladele, the registrar in question, was, until December 2007, effectively a freelancer. This permitted her to swap with other registrars to avoid having to officiate at civil partnerships. But since then, these services have been under the direct control of the local authority, which has an equal opportunities policy that does not permit this kind of discrimination.
Ladele claimed it resulted in her being forced to choose between her religion and her job. She said she was picked on, shunned and accused of being homophobic for refusing to carry out civil partnerships.
Naturally, the Christian Institute, which bankrolled this case, is cock-a-hoop. This is a result that they and other Christian activists have been trying to achieve for some time now. It will provide the platform they've needed to build their dream of a theocratic Britain.
There have been several tribunal decisions that have gone against them - including the British Airways cross case, the Bishop of Hereford's withdrawal of a job offer to a gay man, which resulted in the diocese being heavily fined and the family court magistrate who refused to ruled on gay adoption cases.
Of course, this catastrophe was inevitable where religious rights and gay rights compete under the same legal umbrella. They are completely incompatible and would inevitably come into conflict. This decision appears to show that religious rights trump gay rights - and that is something that should leave gay people quaking in their boots.
There will be major implications for the government's equality and human rights agenda. What other duties will religious people now claim exemption from? We have already seen pharmacists refuse to provide contraception on religious grounds and supermarket check-out attendants refusing to handle alcohol or pork products. Others demand that they should not be required to work on holy days.
Religious people already have a huge concession in that civil partnerships can't be performed in churches. It is unjust and unfair then that religious people now seek to colonise civil and secular spaces like council offices or magistrates courts demanding religious exemptions. The point of state-run facilities are that any citizen can make use of them and expect equal treatment and service. These are all taxpayer funded services – so, in effect, non-believers and gay people are paying to be discriminated against. If religious officiants who are willing to perform ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples are not allowed by law to opt in, in why should secular registrars be allowed to opt out?
People are rightly protected from being discriminated against because of their religion, but the spirit of this law should not be perverted to allow religious people license to discriminate against others on the basis of their religious belief. Equality legislation is already undermined by numerous exemptions, practically all of them concessions to the religious. Every one of their privileges has a victim. After all, these exemptions are given to the very people most likely to discriminate.
We should be aware that the people behind this push to religionise our society are not the regular church-goers who generally wouldn't dream of behaving in this bigoted way. It is a small group of determined zealots who will not stop until we're all subject to their version of "religious freedom" (which seems to mean freedom for them, and restrictions for others). Often behind these apparently vulnerable individuals there stands a highly organised and well-funded pressure group.
It is vital that this decision is overturned. If it isn't, the sky's the limit for these ambitious evangelists.
Victory for Christian registrar bullied for refusing to perform 'sinful' gay weddings
By Olinka Koster Last updated at 10:51 PM on 10th July 2008
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Landmark ruling: A tribunal said Lillian Ladele had been unfairly treated by her employers over her refusal to perform civil partnership ceremonies
A Christian registrar who refused to carry out gay 'weddings' won a landmark legal battle yesterday.
Lillian Ladele, 47, was threatened with the sack, bullied and 'thrown before the lions' after asking to be excused from conducting civil partnerships for same-sex couples because of her religious beliefs.
But yesterday a tribunal agreed that her faith had been ridden roughshod over by equalities-obsessed Islington Council, which had sought to 'trump one set of rights with another'.
The groundbreaking decision could lead to firms facing 'conscience claims' from staff who say their own beliefs prevent them carrying out part of their job.
Yesterday's ruling found that Liberal Democrat-run Islington Council in North London cared too much about the 'rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual' community.
It also found that the council – which gave Miss Ladele an ultimatum to choose between her beliefs and her £31,000-a-year job – showed no respect for her rights as a Christian.
Speaking afterwards, Miss Ladele said: 'It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.
'Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully or harass people over their religious beliefs.'
Miss Ladele, who is single, said she was treated like a pariah by colleagues and left in an 'intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment'.
She had wept as she told the tribunal how her employers gave her an ultimatum to perform the ceremonies or face dismissal for gross misconduct.
'I was being picked on a daily basis,' she said. She said she felt like she was being 'thrown before the lions', explaining: 'I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life and this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations.
'It creates a problem for any Christian if they are expected to do or condone something that they see as sinful.'
Her nightmare began in 2004, when she realised that legislation permitting civil partnerships at town halls between gays or lesbians would require her to preside over the ceremonies.
Miss Ladele raised her concerns, but was ridiculed. Her boss, Helen Mendez-Child, said her stance was akin to a registrar refusing to marry a black person.
In 2006 Miss Ladele and another, unnamed, Christian colleague were accused of 'discriminating against the homosexual community'.
In May 2007, the council launched an internal disciplinary inquiry into Miss Ladele.
Four months later, she was told if she did not co-operate she would be sacked. She took the council to an employment tribunal, claiming discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of religion or beliefs.
Yesterday the Central London tribunal agreed she had been unfairly treated.
In its ruling, which could have implications for the administration of the 18,000 same-sex ceremonies conducted every year, the tribunal said: 'This is a situation where there is a conflict between two rights or freedoms. It is an important case, which may have a wider impact than the dispute between the parties.
'The tribunal accepts that it would be wrong for one set of rights to trump another.
'The evidence before the tribunal was that Islington Council rightly considered the importance of the right of the gay community not to be discriminated against but did not consider the right of Miss Ladele as a member of a religious group.
'Islington Council decided that the service it provided was secular and that the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community must be protected.
'In so acting, it took no notice of the rights of Miss Ladele by virtue of her orthodox Christian beliefs.'
Compensation will be decided in September. There is no limit to the amount that can be awarded for religious discrimination.
Last night employment lawyer Lisa Mayhew, of Jones Day, said: 'It is a bit of a wake-up call for employers.
'They need to think about whether their instructions and the tasks expected of staff might cause people with religious beliefs more problems than others.
'It does not have to be religion – this could apply across the spectrum in terms of race, gender or sexual orientation.'
But Ben Summerskill, of gay rights campaign group Stonewall, said: 'Public servants are paid by taxpayers to deliver public services.
'They shouldn't be able to pick and choose who they deliver those services to.'