Ex-counsellor's fears of unrest over gay rights
A CHRISTIAN relationship counsellor who lost his job after refusing to give sex therapy to homosexual couples has claimed civil unrest could arise if gay rights are allowed to take precedence over religious beliefs.
Gary McFarlane was speaking outside the Court of Appeal in London yesterday after travelling to the capital to get permission to make a renewed appeal to prove religious discrimination by his former employers. Relate dismissed him in March 2008, and his first appeal in January last year found he had been wrongfully dismissed, but was not the victim of religious discrimination or unfair dismissal.
The 48-year-old, from Hanham, lost his case to prove religious discrimination in December at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, but now wants his appeal to be heard before a specially selected panel of judges. He is backed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, who wants the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge to set up a specialist panel of judges "with proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues".
Lord Justice Laws reserved his ruling on the application after being told by Mr McFarlane's barrister, Paul Diamond, that the "collision between established faiths in the land and recent judicial decisions could lead to civil unrest".
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He claimed the Appeal Court got it wrong in a recent decision in which Christian registrar Lillian Ladele lost her challenge over her dismissal for refusing to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples in breach of "God's law." Since the decision last December that there was no unfair discrimination of her human rights and the refusal of the Supreme Court to hear any appeal, Mr Diamond claimed people had lost their jobs for sticking to their religious beliefs.
He also referred to another case, of devout Christian Nadia Eweida, who lost her discrimination claim against British Airways for being refused permission to display a silver cross at work.
Mr Diamond told Lord Justice Laws: "At stake is the reputation of the United Kingdom as a nation that respects religious rights."
He said both gay and religious rights should be recognised in a tolerant society, and it was wrong for judges to make new law by determining the balance between those two sets of rights. He claimed that in the case of Ladele, judges had come down on the side of sexual orientation rights, but that it was not right that courts should "not create rights or remove rights".
He added: "The court's role is as guardian of rights and not to determine a balance between them."
Mr McFarlane is now trying to set up his own private practice as a relationship counsellor without the sexual element.
Leaving court, he said: "The courts are trumping one right over another and people were really quite surprised at the outcome.
"It has completely bolted the door on people taking a particular stance because of their religious beliefs. Society is embarking on a slippery slope if competing interests are not fully considered.
"We are being discriminated against because of our religious beliefs and it is unacceptable to be told by employers that if we have a problem we can quit our jobs.
"We do not want to impose our views on society, but neither do we think a fair balance has been achieved by recent court decisions."
Lord Justice Laws said he would give his ruling as soon as possible.