E.H.R.C. disallows homophobia in U.K. Public Services

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has confirmed that it will not seek ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be made for religious workers who refuse to serve gay people.

The commission has asked for permission to advise in four Christian rights cases due to come before the European Court of Human Rights, two of which involve employees who said their faith prohibited them from serving gays and lesbians.

When the commission first announced its intention to intervene in the cases, it said that laws could be changed to give religious people the right to manifest their faith, in a similar way to the legal adjustments and accommodations given to disabled employees. For example, allowing religious workers to swap shifts to avoid days when civil partnerships are booked.

Gay rights campaigners strongly criticised the body’s proposals, with Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill calling them “deeply disturbing”. Peter Tatchell called them “shocking” and “utterly appalling”.

Although the EHRC initially said that British courts had interpreted equality laws “too narrowly”, it now says judges made the correct decisions in the cases of Lillian Ladele and Gary McFarlane.

Ms Ladele, a registrar in Islington, London, refused to conduct civil partnerships. Mr McFarlane, a sex counsellor from Bristol, said he could not counsel gay couples. Both took their employers to court for discrimination and are now appealing the judgements.

The other two cases involve employees barred from wearing crosses at work.

When the EHRC first announced the proposals for opt-outs, Christian rights campaigners claimed there would be massive support for them.

They have now accused the commission of backtracking under a “barrage of public criticism from secularists and gay activists”.

Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, said: “It seems pretty clear that the commission has been successfully intimidated against proceeding as they initially announced.

“They appear to have changed their initial approach as a result of the outcry from those groups who wish to restrict freedom of religion and religious rights of conscience being recognised more fairly by the courts.”

Mr Horrocks added: “For many Christians wearing a cross is important, but these situations ought to be relatively easily accommodated by reasonable people on both sides in work related situations. However, being forced to be morally complicit in activities which directly violate people’s religious conscience involves seriously fundamental human rights principles.”

The EHRC is now running a two-week consultation on its proposals.

Article by Jessica Geen, ‘Pink News’.

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In a controversial back-flip, the British Equal human Rights Commission is not now seeking special exclusion for religious objectors to offering Public Services to LGBT persons in the U.K. The special case of Lilian Ladele, a civil servant who refused to perform a ceremony which allowed same-sex persons to live in a Civil Partnership, has been an instance of some controversy since she was dismissed from her position because of her refusal to comply with the requirements of her official duties as a C.P. Celebrant where same-sex couples were involved.

After an indication that Equality and Human Rights Commission (UK) might apply to the European Human Rights Commission Legislature for permission to exclude Ms Ladele from the Human Rights legislation – on account of her religious objection to celebrating the Civil Partnership of Gay Couples –  it would appear that EHRC has decided not to apply for special dispensation – on the grounds that religious objection was not a sufficient reason to deny the human rights of LGBT couples to avail themselves of a lawful Civil Partnership ceremony.

It seems right that, as English Law now allows Civil Partnerships between Gay Couples, anyone employed by the secular arm of the state must be ready and willing to conduct such partnerships, which are legally transacted through the state agency. The issue is no longer considered to afford  a ‘special contingency’ which allows conscientious objection to the carrying out of a statutory duty – which perhaps puts the whole matter into a just and proper perspective.

(It should be noted that the religious conscientious objection issue here is not the same as that of nurses and doctors who have been given permission to opt out of administering abortion in public hospitals. In the latter case, where objectors may claim their objection to a procedure involving a matter of life or death might be in conflict with the Hypocratic Oath – incumbent on all medical practitioners – it seems reasonable to allow objections.)

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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