The Trades Union Congress says it is “deeply concerned” at the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s proposals to give homophobic workers the right to avoid serving gay people.
Last week, the commission announced its plans to advise in four religious rights cases due to come before the European Court of Human Rights. One of the cases involves a Christian registrar who refused to conduct civil partnerships. Another concerns the case of a sex counsellor who refused to work with gay couples.
The EHRC said that “compromises” and “reasonable accommodations” could be made for such workers in the same way that disabled people have been given employment rights – such as allowing registrars to swap shifts to avoid coming into contact with civil partnerships.
In a letter to the chair of the EHRC, Trevor Phillips, TUC general secretary Brendan Barber argued that “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people “do not impinge on the rights of others”.
He added: “The attempt to apply this concept in such cases would lead to an employer being expected to accommodate the prejudices of an employee against lesbian, gay or bisexual people if they could argue that their prejudice was based in their religion or belief.
“The law would then have been changed to declare that lesbian, gay or bisexual people were protected against discrimination – except where someone could show that they should be allowed to discriminate because they were prejudiced.”
Mr Barber added that the EHRC’s announcement had generated “alarm and despondency” among gay people and urged the commission to rethink its decision.
The letter was also copied to EHRC commissioner and former Stonewall chief executive Angela Mason. Ms Mason has not yet publicly commented on the EHRC’s proposals.
Earlier today, PinkNews.co.uk contacted the commission with further questions about what the ‘compromises’ could entail and whether the body would support such accommodations for, eg, racist employees.
A spokeswoman said the commission would not comment further.
The Government Equalities Office has also refused to give its views on whether there should be opt-outs for religious workers who refuse to serve gay people.
A spokeswoman said: “The government is considering the applications to the European Court of Justice and will be providing submissions to the court in the autumn.”
Announcing the move earlier this month, EHRC legal director John Wadham said that ‘compromises’ could avoid lengthy and costly court cases and be similar to laws for disabled people.
He said: “The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades. It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.”
Gay rights groups have strongly criticised the proposals. Stonewall said it was “deeply disturbed” by the apparent U-turn, while Peter Tatchell called it “shocking” and “utterly appalling”.