Friday, April 11, 2008

Islington Registrar Demands The Right To Discriminate

A case in Islington shows how much the elevation of religion in recent years has encouraged those who want to use their faith to demand their right to prejudice. But at least in this case, the state is getting it right. So far.

Until December last year, Registrars - those nice people at the town hall who register births, partnerships, etc - worked in effect as freelancers for the Registrar General. Now, since the Statistics and Registration Act came into force, they are under the control of the Council. In other words, they have become accountable. Which is all too much to stomach if you want to discriminate against queers.

Lillian Ladele (pictured) wants to do just that. Before December, she could opt out of registering same-sex civil partnerships. Now she can't, which offends her Christian principles. (I'm not sure, by the way, whether same-sex couples can opt out of being registered by Ms Ladele.)

Ms Ladele launched her Tribunal claim at the end of last year, claiming that she was a victim of "discrimination or victimisation on grounds of religion or belief".

Her application failed. Let's think ... That'd be because she was not discriminated against at all - she was actually required to do exactly the same as everyone else who does her job. What she is a 'victim' of is an absence of discrimination. The truth is that she is demanding, not suffering, discrimination.

What if every registrar took her view? What if she, or anyone else, wanted to opt out of registering marriages of divorced people because of her religious beliefs? Or registering the births of children conceived by IVF or donor insemination? Maybe registrars could refuse to register people they just didn't like?! Of course, that would be patently absurd. But once you say your desire to discriminate is because of your religious beliefs, it seems to get a credibility that masks its actual absurdity.

Thankfully, it has not worked so far in this case, although Ms Ladele plans to appeal. It's not often I support bosses against workers in Employment Tribunals, and the Tribunal may be more interested in upholding the rights of bosses to tell workers what to do rather than the rights of lesbian and gay couples to get legally hitched. But nonetheless, in this case the boss is an elected public authority and the worker is a homophobe. Here's to the appeal failing.

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