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Tribunals ruling in favour of Registrar has potentially wide implications

An employment tribunal has ruled in favour of a registrar who refused to conduct same sex civil partnership ceremonies because of her religious beliefs. If the decision is upheld it will have far reaching implications. Public servants will in theory be able to refuse dealing with members of the public if it compromises their religious faith.

Lillian Ladele a registrar at Islington Council for 16 years had claimed she was not able to perform such ceremonies as she deemed them “sinful”. The defendant had previously avoided presiding over such ceremonies, as she was able to swap shifts with colleagues.  But in December 2007, marriages and civil partnerships came under direct control of local authorities and Ladele was told she had to conduct all ceremonies or face losing her job.

The tribunal ruled that Lillian Ladele was discriminated against on the grounds of her Christian faith and had suffered harassment. The Tribunal concluded 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.

The Telegraph quoted Ladele as saying after the verdict, ''I am delighted at this decision. 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 and harass people over their religious beliefs.''

Councillor John Gilbert, Islington Council's Executive Member for Human Resources, said: "We're clearly disappointed with the result, as we consider our approach was the right one. We are now considering the judgment carefully in order to decide whether we should appeal”

Gay Rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented:-

“If this judgment stands, it will pave the way for religious people to have the legal entitlement to discriminate on conscientious grounds against people of other faiths, unmarried parents and many others who they condemn as immoral.

“We could soon find religious police officers, solicitors, fire fighters and doctors refusing to serve members of the public who they find morally objectionable – and being allowed to do so by the law.  

The ruling may not necessarily set a precedent which rules in favour of people refusing to provide a service due to their faith as suggested by Peter Tatchell. The case may be cited to encourage public bodies to investigate possible compromises in such circumstances. The Council lost the hearing because it was not able to successfully prove that it was unable to fulfil its responsibility to perform civil partnerships, without insisting that all registrars carry them out .

In similar circumstances public bodies may be expected to have made reasonable adjustments. The very same flexibility the defendant had prior to when civil partnerships came under direct control of local authorities, where she was able to swap shifts.

On that particular note an interesting comment was made this week about this case by  Chief executive of Stonewall Ben Summerskill speaking to PinkNews.co.uk.

"It is clearly humiliating for a gay couple if they have an appointment with a registrar and halfway through the meeting she announces she is not going to preside over their special day because of her personal prejudice," said Mr Summerskill."

Perhaps Islington Council still has a shot at winning this case further up the legal food chain.

Ends

Posted by
Asif Yusuf

 

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