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Discrimination

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April 9, 2012 by admin

Deciding what constitutes ‘discrimination’ isn’t always an easy matter.But an employment tribunal in London has just made a very wise decision.

Lillian Ladele was a registrar with Islington Council, in North London. One of her duties was conducting marriages – and, with recent changes to the law, this now extends to civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.

But there was a problem. Ladele is a Christian, and she decided that her beliefs did not allow her to carry out such unions. She refused to perform gay weddings. Islington Council fired her.

She took the council to an employment tribunal, which sided with her. They found that she had been discriminated against on religious grounds. But the case went to appeal, and the employment appeal tribunal rightly concluded that it was not the council but Ladele herself who was guilty of discrimination.

The duties of a registrar are defined by law. Ladele’s religious beliefs are her own, personal choice. If these prevent her from carrying out the duties of a registrar then, clearly, she is not competent to fulfill that role. When the law – and therefore the duties of a registrar – changed, Ladele should have asked herself whether she should continue in that role. It was a matter for her personal conscience. What she decided to do was to attempt to remain in her job and force her views on others by saying that she would not carry out that job properly. This was a selfish and unreasonable decision by her.

She claims that she never intended to deny the rights of gay people. But that was precisely what she was doing. They do, indeed, have a right to a civil union. She has no right to deprive them of this merely because of her personal beliefs. This is not a religious issue – religion has no place in such government business. This is a civil liberties issue and Ladele is clearly guilty of eroding the civil liberties in Islington.

The council is not guiltless in all this. The tribunal found that they had handled the situation badly. Nevertheless, the key issue has been successfully resolved: it is now clear that a government functionary does not have the right to discriminate against people purely of the basis of that functionary’s private and irrelevant beliefs. A victory for common sense.

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