I am very troubled by the recent Employment Tribunal on a Registrar refusing to carry out Civil Partnerships (in a case financed by the Christian Institute).
It seems to cut across the view expressed by Parliament in the Goods and Services regulations on sexual orientation regulations (where Parliament did debate 'conscience' exemptions being pushed by LCF and Christian Institute but did not go down that route). As such it is potentially an egregious example of a lower court superseding parliamentary sovereignty.
It seems to imply that an employer is unable to identify a policy of equal treatment and ensure that its staff (acting as its agents) are expected to adhere to it.
It states that rights accorded to sexual orientation cannot trump those accorded to religious belief yet it does the opposite with free abandon. If you have a religious belief you're exempt from having to adhere to an employers policy of treating all its service users equally.
It requires publicly funded employers to implement an equality policy whilst mandating them to employ people that don't and immunises such staff from any come back (even criticism as this would amount to harassment).
It makes great play of the fact of the complainant being an "orthodox Christian" in her views. This is appalling. The Employment Tribunal is here making a judgment about religious matters, while the Church of England (the established Church within England) supported Civil Partnerships and incorporates them in its own legislation about clergy who are Civil Partners (has the ET ruled that the Church of England is not an "orthodox" church?).
It seems to state that Civil Partnerships are de facto marriage - I welcome this one progressive (though doubtless unintentional) aspect of the ruling.
It makes no mention of the distinction made in human rights instruments between freedom of religion and the freedom to manifest a religious belief, the latter being susceptible to being curtailed to protect the rights and freedom of others (hence the manifestation of a religious belief by means of discriminating against others ought not to be given legal immunity). Religious freedom (something that ought to be precious and revered by all) is turned into a licence for hatred, bigotry, discrimination and a society riven by discord and division.
Under the rule of law there can never be a licence to discriminate and where given will be exploited by a variety of religions to undermine employers' intentions in carrying out their business - a pharmacy selling contraception has to employ staff refusing to provide that service, a local authority required by the law to provide civil partnerships without discrimination has to employ staff unwilling to further such aims - no matter what chaos is caused to the service or to employment relations.
It's a bad day for the law. I can only hope a higher court reviews the ruling and provides a more coherent statement of the law without granting a generalised licence for bigotry to self proclaimed religionists.
Pink News - 'Employment Tribunal has "legitimised homophobia"
National Secular Society Press Release - Registrar judgment potentially catastrophic for equality
Comment is Free (Terry Sanderson) Paying to be discriminated against
British Humanist Association appalled by judgment in Registrar's Employment Tribunal