Labour Research October 2012

Law Matters

Refuseniks go to Europe

Despite contrary advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, two Christians are trying to establish a right in the European courts to refuse services to homosexual couples.

Lillian Ladele, a registrar, refused to perform civil partnerships, while Gary McFarlane refused to counsel homosexual couples on sexual matters. Both lost their jobs.

The UK courts rejected their discrimination claims, in favour of the employers’ proper and legitimate policy of providing the full range of services to all sections of the community regardless of sexual orientation. However, the claimants have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

The Commission is intervening in these cases as an expert and independent body and not in support of any of the parties in the litigation. However, it believes that both claims were rightly decided by the UK courts.

Public services union UNISON has expressed concern that accommodating the religious belief, such as that held by Ladele and McFarlane, in workplaces would lead to a tolerance of discrimination and violate the dignity of same sex couples. It said that religious belief cannot justify discrimination against certain groups.

Another two Christian claimants — Nadia Eweida and Shirley Chaplin — are appealing to the ECHR over a ban on the wearing of crucifixes. The UK courts found that the employer’s ban was justified — that is to say, the rule was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The ECHR is expected to rule in a few months’ time.