Relationships counselling organisation Relate has admitted it it wrongfully dismissed a Christian employee who did not want to work with gay couples.
Gary McFarlane claimed at an employment tribunal in Bristol this week that the publicly-funded national counselling service failed to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations.
Counsel for Relate admitted that the organisation should given him notice to leave instead of dismissing him on the grounds of gross misconduct and accepted his claim of wrongful dismissal.
The tribunal has reserved judgement of his claims of unfair dismissal, harassment and discrimination on the grounds of religion. A decision is expected in the next fortnight.
Mr McFarlane worked for Relate in Avon and is also a solicitor and a part-time tutor on relationships at Trinity Theological College in Bristol.
He said that he had “overcome” his prejudices against same-sex couples since he began working as a Relate counsellor in 2003, but now that he is training to be a psychosexual therapist, he feels he cannot deal with gay and lesbian people as giving them sex therapy would be “encouraging sin.”
The employment tribunal was told on Monday that he was the victim of office gossip about his religious views on gay people and this led to him being questioned about his stance.
In an email to his manager he made the comparison with NHS doctors who refuse to carry out abortions.
Michael Bennett, Avon Relate manager, told the hearing:
“We asked him whether he will comply with our equal opportunity policy and in PST (psychosexual therapy) that would put his views under great stress and Mr McFarlane felt there was no practical way.
“We dismissed him for a lack of confidence and trust on where he stood on our equal opportunities policy.
“His religious faith is not relevant, it is the application of it to the equal opportunities policy.”
Mr Bennett said that any attempt to segregate homosexual couples and heterosexual couples to comply with Mr McFarlane’s beliefs would break equal opportunity rules.
“This is not about me, I am a people person and every professional role I have had is about people conflicts and relationships,” Mr McFarlane said after the tribunal hearing concluded, according to The Independent.
“If the decision goes against me it has big implications for other counsellors that are looking on, non-Christians and Christians.
“This is a case where the balance of fairness has tilted too far to one particular group.
“This is not just about a Christian principle, it is about people’s faith who may have various types of and there has to be a system to help those individuals work through those issues and have their stance accommodated.”
His tribunal follows the case of Lillian Ladele, who won her employment tribunal against Islington Council.
A registrar, she had refused to carry out civil partnerships because she claimed they conflicted with her Christian views.
The tribunal found she had been discriminated against because of her fatih. Islington is appeaing the ruling.
Relate dealt with gay couples before Mr McFarlane joined in 2003.
The charity, founded in 1938, receives £1.2m in funding from the government.
Trained practitioners see 150,000 clients each year.
The service is available in 600 locations to married, co-habiting, same-sex relationships, separated, divorced or single people.
A spokesperson for Relate said:
“The tribunal has heard detailed evidence about a very complex case that concerns Relate’s commitment to the principle of equality of access to our services in Avon, and to thousands of people across Britain.
“Relate is committed to upholding its values and policy of equal treatment regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age or relationship status, and we take every effort to balance rights which may be competing.
“We will make a full statement once the verdict is known.”