A council registrar has told an employment tribunal that some of her religiously-minded colleagues are being “accommodated” and therefore allowed to opt out of performing civil partnerships for gay couples.
Elizabeth Thatcher, who describes herself as a Christian, was giving evidence at a tribunal brought by Lillian Ladele.
Ms Ladele claims that Islington council discriminated against her on the grounds of her religion by not allowing her to opt out of performing same-sex ceremonies.
She claims her faith “creates a problem for any Christian if they are expected to do or condone something that they see as sinful.”
Mrs Thatcher, who has worked as a registrar for eight years, told the tribunal yesterday:
“I have heard of one Christian who has had to resign, but I know of others who have been accommodated.
“She (the woman who resigned) told me that she was terrified about herself or her authority being identified because she could be vilified or the authority put under pressure to remove her.”
Earlier this week Mr Ladele told the tribunal:
“I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others and that this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations.
“I feel unable to facilitate directly the formation of a union that I sincerely believe is contrary to God’s law.”
Ms Ledele, who has worked for Islington council for more than 16 years, initially swapped with colleagues to avoid performing gay and lesbian ceremonies after civil partnerships became legal in 2005.
After formal complaints were made against her, an internal disciplinary investigation began.
Christian fundamentalist groups have claimed that this employment tribunal will set a precedent about where they can and cannot claim their religious beliefs should be taken into account at work.
A Christian Institute spokesman told The Times that Ms Ladele’s case was about religious liberty.
“Other occupations allow conscientious objections,” he said.
“No homosexual couple is being denied their right to marriage, because other registrars are performing them.”
Ms Ladele claims she was shunned by colleagues and her superiors showed no respect for her religious beliefs.
The 2004 Civil Partnership Act allows gay couples to hold civil ceremonies which entitle them to the same rights as married couples.
The Equality Act also gives gay and lesbians the right to equal service in the provision of goods and services.
If Miss Ladele wins her case, it could set a precedent that will allow people with strong religious convictions to opt out of the provision of services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
“Doubtless there were those 40 years ago who claimed a moral objection to mixed marriages between those of different ethnic origin,” commented Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall.
The tribunal continues.