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15 DEC 2009

Christian registrar loses civil partnerships appeal

The Court of Appeal has dismissed a case by a Christian register who claimed she was discriminated against when she was disciplined by Islington Council for refusing to conduct same-sex civil partnerships.

Lillian Ladele successfully took her case to an Employment Tribunal in July 2008 claiming that she was bullied and discriminated against because the council refused to allow her to be exempt from registering civil partnerships. In December 2008 an Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned that ruling.

In dismissing the appeal, the Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger said: "Ms Ladele was employed in a public job and was working for a public authority; she was being required to perform a purely secular task, which was being treated as part of her job; Ms Ladele's refusal to perform that task involved discriminating against gay people in the course of that job; she was being asked to perform the task because of Islington's Dignity for All policy, whose laudable aim was to avoid, or at least minimise, discrimination both among Islington's employees, and as between Islington (and its employees) and those in the community they served; Ms Ladele's refusal was causing offence to at least two of her gay colleagues; Ms Ladele's objection was based on her view of marriage, which was not a core part of her religion; and Islington's requirement in no way prevented her from worshipping as she wished."

The judge concluded: "It appears to me that, however much sympathy one may have with someone such as Ms Ladele, who is faced with choosing between giving up a post she plainly appreciates or officiating at events which she considers to be contrary to her religious beliefs, the legislature has decided that the requirements of a modern liberal democracy, such as the United Kingdom, include outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation, subject only to very limited exceptions."

Lord Neuberger left the door slightly open to local authorities who wish to accommodate the religious beliefs of their registers by going on to say that local authorities would be within the law if they decided not to designate an employee as a civil partnership registrar if the employee objected to same-sex partnerships. However once designated, local authorities have a duty under Equality Act 2006 to ensure that all civil partnership registrars do not discriminate against another person on grounds of the sexual orientation.

Liberty, the human rights campaign group, intervened in the case to support Islington Council's position.

Corinna Ferguson, Liberty's legal officer who specialises in religious freedom cases, said: "Freedom of conscience is incredibly precious but other people have rights and freedoms too. Employers can't be expected to promote equal treatment under the law if they must also accommodate discrimination on the part of their employees."

Lawyers acting for Ms Ladele say she intends to appeal to the Supreme Court. Her case is financially supported by The Christian Institute. Reacting to the ruling, the head of communications Mike Judge said: "We are naturally disappointed at this decision and Miss Ladele intends to appeal. It is an important case of religious liberty not just for Lillian but for Christians working throughout the public sector.

"Looking at the matter more widely, Government regulations in this area have not done enough to protect religious liberty. Time and again, equality and diversity laws mean Christians are pushed to the back of the queue."

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