UK: Christian registrar who refused to conduct gay weddings wins case
July 12, 2008 News Summary
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Saturday July 12, 2008
Christian registrar who refused to conduct gay weddings wins case
Lillian Ladele, 47, can expect a large payout from Islington Council after she was bullied and threatened with the sack for asking to avoid civil partnerships because of her deeply-held religious beliefs.
When she said she could not reconcile her faith with the union of gay men and women, she was treated like a “pariah” and the council showed no respect for her rights as a Christian, the tribunal found.
The ruling that employees should not be required to act against their consciences has implications for the 18,000 same-sex ceremonies conducted nationwide each year and could encourage other registrars with strong religious beliefs to take a similar stance.
Council officials had insisted it would send out the wrong message if Miss Ladele was exempted and her claim had outraged gay rights groups.
But the Central London Employment Tribunal upheld Miss Ladele’s claims of discrimination, harassment and victimisation on the grounds of religion or beliefs.
Her legal fees were paid by the Christian Institute and spokesman Mike Judge said: “This is a ruling that says enough is enough.
“Just because people have got traditional beliefs on marriage does not mean they should be treated any less respectfully.
“No homosexual couple is being denied their right to marriage because other registrars are performing them.
“This was about one person having a view their colleagues didn’t like and them questioning why she was still in employment. That is too hostile and offensive.”
Miss Ladele’s compensation will be considered by the tribunal in September and there is no limit to the amount a panel can award for religious discrimination.
Meanwhile the Islington Tribune said the ruling “has thrown the Town Hall into disarray”:
Gay ‘Sinners’ Registrar To Keep Her Job
Astonished Labour councillors last night (Thursday) slammed the council leader for stalling over whether to appeal against the “unfair decision”.
Cllr Catherine West, leader of the Labour Group, said: “I am disappointed by this ruling, which I think is deeply misjudged. I cannot understand how the council got this wrong. I believe that it is about time that James Kempton, the leader of the council, shows some leadership and confirms that Islington will launch an appeal.”
Cllr Phil Kelly added: “I think Islington Council has done other local authorities a great disservice in losing this tribunal. They have been completely incompetent.”
Council leader James Kempton said: “We are now considering the judgement carefully in order to decide whether we should appeal. We would not have fought this if we did not want it resolved.”
Taxpayers have already been left to pick up a £35,000 legal bill for the five-day hearing and significant damages will be paid to Ms Ladele barring an appeal.
The Guardian claims that the decision “sets a hugely dangerous precedent.”
Paying to be discriminated against
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.
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.
Commenting in The Independent, Deborah Ohr wonders, “If this registrar had ‘Christian views’, why did she ever take on the job?”
Lillian Ladele is an odd sort of Christian. The north London registrar has won what is being described as a “landmark legal battle” that exempts her from carrying out civil partnerships. Her conscience will not allow her to conduct such unions, she says, because “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”.
This can only lead one to wonder why on earth Ladele opted to become a registrar in the first place. After all, people who wish their unions to be God-ordained generally marry in a church. It is strange for a person who has such a strong belief that marriage is “God-ordained” to enter a profession which concerns itself with conducting legal rather than religious marriages. And that’s leaving aside the problem whereby most “orthodox Christians” tend not to believe a woman has any place in consecrating what Ladele describes –erroneously in this case – as a God-ordained relationship at all.
Anyway, why did Ladele’s religious beliefs not surface until civil partnerships became part of the mix? Had Ladele not already asked to be exempt from marrying people who had been married already, or had had children already, or had had sexual relations outside marriage already?
I’m amazed that Ladele’s religious beliefs ever allowed her to carry out any marriages in racy old Islington. It is clear that Ladele’s appeal to scripture logically prohibits her from ever marrying any people, of any gender, who are not virgins or who believe in divorce. Ladele’s “orthodox Christian” views, I fear, are manipulated entirely to suit her own private agenda.
Isn’t it suspect that Ladele applies her beliefs so strictly only when gay people are involved? Christ never made any recorded reference to homosexuality. He did suggest that marriage was the only appropriate setting for sexual intercourse. But he did concede that there were various reasons why a person may not choose to marry. That’s it. Very tolerant.
This teaching leads many Christians to believe that people are quite entitled to enter into all kinds of relationships without upsetting Christ. This is exactly the liberal idea that threatens schism in the Anglican Church, and exactly the one that must have guided Ladele into believing it was fine to be a civil registrar, facilitating non-religious marriages. Plenty of Christians who consider themselves as close to God as Ladele believe it is absolutely fine to be gay, very splendid to be in a settled and loving relationship, and utterly great to wish to proclaim it publicly and secure for it a legal basis. Ladele has every right to agree with the conservatives. But the further right this tribunal has mistakenly conferred enshrines her contestable religious belief as above the law. It is clearly gay sex Ladele objects to, not all non-marital sex, so her appeal to religious scruple is vexatious.
I have no difficulty with tolerating people whose views are strange to me, even abhorrent, unless they are doing harm to others, or breaking the law. People can be as homophobic as they like, as long as they keep it to themselves. I don’t think people do harm by refusing to conduct civil ceremonies, if they don’t want to, as long as they accept that their private wish to defy the law of the land is one that they are personally responsible for. Ladele is at liberty never to conduct a civil ceremony as long as she lives. But that ought to stop her, as a matter of conscientious objection, from being a registrar at all.
The British Humanist Association is disappointed:
British Humanist Association appalled by judgement in registrar’s employment tribunal
The British Humanist Association (BHA) has expressed disappointment at the judgement handed down by an employment tribunal regarding a Christian Registrar who is refusing to perform Civil Partnerships on the grounds of her religion.
Pepper Harow, BHA Local Campaigns Officer stated, “This judgement suggests that people can refuse to carry out a public service that is protected by law, simply because they do not personally agree with it. It puts the homophobic beliefs of religious individuals above the rights of lesbian and gay people to equal treatment and dignity.”
By contrast, The Daily Mail applauds the ruling:
A victory for Britain’s quiet majority
Britain’s acceptance of those from different racial, social or religious backgrounds has long been an attractive aspect of our national character.
But this culture of tolerance has come under pressure from politicians and the courts, who have put the often stridently expressed demands of minorities ahead of the rights of the majority.
No case has so clearly illustrated this as that of Lillian Ladele, the registrar whose Christian beliefs – beliefs incidentally that in the broader sense shaped the DNA of this country – led her to refuse to perform same-sex civil partnerships.
The Mail supports the right to undertake civil partnerships, but not to force others to participate in ceremonies with which they may profoundly disagree.
But Miss Ladele’s bosses at Islington council, always ready to leap to the defence of the gay community, concluded that she was prejudiced, and insisted that she change her mind.
So she took them to an employment tribunal and – to the amazement of all those who have given up on the ability of our legal system to stand up for ordinary Britons – she won.
The tribunal concluded that Miss Ladele had been discriminated against, that the council had allowed the rights of homosexuals to trump her religious beliefs, and that it was utterly wrong.
The battle is far from over. Islington may appeal against the judgment. And we should never underestimate the sheer zeal of the commissars of political correctness to get their way.
But this is still a landmark outcome, a victory not only for the values of the quiet majority, but for that long-lost concept – common sense in our courtrooms.
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