As expected, Civil Registrar Lillian Ladele’s victory against Islington Council for religious discrimination was overturned on appeal. And the full ruling makes for very interesting reading. She felt her devout Christianity precluded her from officiating over civil partnerships, and that the law should protect her in this, despite civil partnerships being conducted by the state, not the Church, and them being a secular rather than a religious institution. But far from being as intransigent as she wanted to make the council out to be, they initially did make efforts for her to do different work for the same pay:
6. There were two other registrars who at this time also objected to carrying out these
duties. One accepted an offer of different employment on the same pay, which removed the
dilemma. Another, a Muslim woman who also raised similar objections, left the Council’s
service. These were apparently deputy registrars and as such were employees of the Council
rather than independent office holders.
7. The council were in discussions with the Registrar General’s office about the matter.
Following advice from that quarter, Ms Ladele was offered the opportunity to undertake only
civil partnership ceremonies confined to the simple signing process. This involves no more than
obtaining certain information from the civil partners. There is another form which involves the
couple concerned undertaking a ceremony which she would not have been required to do. A
Muslim with religious objections of a similar nature working in another borough had found this
an acceptable compromise.
There’s plenty of evidence that the council behaved badly towards her on occasion during this process, but the appeal tribunal quite rightly acknowledged the fundamental difference between behaviour which might have been inconsiderate, rude or inappropriate and behaviour which was discriminatory on grounds of her religion. The initial tribunal didn’t take this fundamental difference into account, and I don’t believe for a second that the Court of Appeal will overturn this ruling. After her victory in July Ladele said:
“It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine.
“Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully and harass people over their religious beliefs,” she said.
Yet gay rights weren’t used to bully or harass anyone over their religious beliefs. Time and again she was offered compromises which were acceptable to other people with devout religious beliefs. In other occasions other, deputy registrars chose to leave the council’s employ. What’s clear from the appeal tribunal is that despite some errors in consultation with her, the council merely attempted to enforce its own equal opportunities and diversity policies, but that Ladele believed she was a special case. It’s a relief that the appeal tribunal has confirmed that in such instances neither she nor the rest of the devoutly religious can claim such rights under the law.