Legal experts have dismissed predictions that same-sex marriage will lead to mass sackings of people who disagree with it, but advise employers to have clear equality policies as back-up.
Opponents have claimed that if it becomes law it will result in unfair disciplinary actions against public sector workers who do not support equal marriage.
Colin Hart, Campaign Director of the Coalition for Marriage, said earlier this week: “Tens of thousands of teachers face the real prospect of being disciplined, or sacked, over the Government’s proposals to redefine marriage, creating a poisonous atmosphere in every staffroom in every school.”
In response David Evans, employment partner at Cripps Harries Hall Solicitors, told Human Resources website HRZone: “I think that such fears have been hugely exaggerated and will soon die down.”
“The law recognises the individual’s freedom to maintain their own religious belief, both publicly and privately.
“Where that religious belief impacts on other fundamental rights, then a fair balance needs to be struck taking into account the democratic needs of society. If the Bill passes, this will certainly have an impact on where that balance needs to be struck.”
He added: “I cannot foresee a situation where thousands of teachers will be disciplined, let alone dismissed, as a result of their religious views.
“First, teachers are professionals and are already well versed in presenting different viewpoints to their students, irrespective of their own personal opinions and beliefs.
“Second, the Government has assured teachers that there will be no requirement to promote same sex marriages in the classroom, merely to inform that the law will now recognise marriage on this basis.
“Only in the most extreme of cases, will there be an issue,” he concluded. “It is likely that even in these circumstances an alternative solution to discipline and/or dismissal will be found.”
Hayley Reid, senior associate in employment law at Stephenson Harwood, added that in order to respond to any complaints in such circumstances employers should review their policies on equalities and social media.
“The strength of differing opinion displayed by those in power on same sex marriage also serves as a reminder to employers to ensure they have a tightly worded social media policy detailing how employees’ should express their views and beliefs on social media sites, such as Facebook,” she said.