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Sex counsellor who refused gays not discriminated against says tribunal

Tony Grew January 9, 2009

An employment tribunal has ruled that a Christian marriage counsellor who declined to give sex therapy to gay couples was not subjected to discrimination on the grounds of his religious belief.

A claim of unfair dismissal was also rejected.

However, the tribunal said Gary McFarlane was wrongfully dismissed.

Relationships counselling organisation Relate has admitted it wrongfully dismissed him.

Mr McFarlane claimed at an employment tribunal in Bristol last month 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.

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 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.

Relate dealt with gay couples before Mr McFarlane joined in 2003.

The rejection of his claims of religous discrimination follow an Employment Appeals Tribunal ruling on the case of Lillian Ladele.

She had won at a previous employment tribunal that agreed she was discriminated against by her employer on the grounds of her religion over her refusal to perform civil partnerships.

The EAT overturned the original judgement and said Islington council were not taking disciplinary action against Ms Ladele for holding her religious beliefs; they did so because she was refusing to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and this involved discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

More: Employment, England

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