Islington Council has won its appeal over its dismissal of Lillian Ladele, a registrar who refused to carry out same-sex marriages. I welcome the result as it would be just as unacceptable for a registrar to refuse to marry a couple who had had premarital sex because of their religious belief. This case is no different. There is no hierarchy between strands of equality, just the principle of mutual respect and tolerance – particularly for those in public administration.
An important case to be won. The idea that the religious should be allowed to discriminate against others because of their own religious belief is anathema to a society that claims secular values. Religion should be pushed back to the sphere of the private where the harm that it does can be minimised. It should never be allowed to dictate to a society where a multiplicity of beliefs is the done thing. If they want to believe in invisible men then that is a matter for them. No one else should have to fork up the cost of it. With a growing acceptance of Sharia Law in the UK British society is in danger of abandoning some of its citizens to the clerics.
As a Christian I believe this is the right decision, the registrar was being asked to carry out a civil ceremony not a religious one. Ultimately the registrar could resign if she felt what she was being asked to do was repugnant to her faith. Many same-gender partnerships are being blessed by ministers and priests, despite the disapproval of the hierarchy.However I disagree with AM, we should be tolerant of different faiths and where it does not infringe the rights of others, accommodate people’s faith. Sikhs should continue to be able to wear turbans as policemen etc. (they are banned in the Garda). Conscientious Objectors should not be forced to serve in the military or face imprisonment as they are in secular Switzerland.
We should be tolerant of different faiths up to a point. That point is reached where it should be reached at with all opinions. If a person wants to wear a turban his or her right to do so should be no weaker or stronger than the person who wants to wear a football scarf or for that matter a Ku Klux Klan hood – similar to a chadri. Why should religious opinions be elevated over and above other opinions? Is a secular love for a football team to be awarded second class status beneath love for some religious tradition? Alright for the desk sergeant to wear a turban but not a Liverpool scarf. At least a Liverpool FC supporter can prove the existence of Liverpool FC. The Liverpool scarf is based in something tangible. That cannot be said with the same certainty of religious symbols.
There is minimal social cost to permitting the wearing of turbans by Sikhs. The social cost to permitting a registrar to carry out discrimination on the basis of sexuality would have been very high indeed–it would have made a joke of the Council’s “Dignity for All” policy.There were some nuances to this case that made it difficult for the original tribunal to see clearly. Ms Ladele was not initially an employee of Islington; her post had been a statutory one. Some of the actions of her employers (particularly the breaches of their own confidentiality rules in discussing private conversations that eventually got out into the public domain and resulted in harassment) were very wrong. In that respect Ms Ladele deserves an apology from the Council.But the principle is an important one, too. Ms Ladele’s person is worthy of respect; she is entitled to form her own private views (which we are not obliged to agree with), but her discriminatory actions in her role as registrar cannot be condoned. That’s where we should draw the line.