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2008 National LGBT Conference
14 November 2008

Conference notes that some high profile media coverage of a 2008 employment tribunal judgment suggested that civil registrars were not obliged to carry out civil partnership ceremonies if that contravened their religious beliefs.

The Tribunal found in favour of an Islington Registrar who refused to officiate at Civil Partnership ceremonies on the grounds of her expressed Christian belief. The Tribunal held that the Registrar was both directly and indirectly discriminated against. A claim of harassment was also upheld.

Conference is concerned this may have led some people to believe that it is lawful to harass or discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people when providing services, undermining equality.

Conference recalls that an employment tribunal ruling does not set a legal precedent. More significantly, other employment tribunals have taken a different approach. Examples include that of a magistrate refusing to hear family cases that might result in children being placed with same sex couples, where the Employment Appeal Tribunal and Court of Appeal upheld the original finding that it was not religious discrimination to require him to take these cases.

Conference believes that freedoms sometimes have to be subject to limitations for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Human Rights must work in a framework where there is a balance of rights for individuals, for different groups and for society as a whole.

Conference believes that there is still a need to increase awareness that the Religion and Belief Regulations do not provide a justification for homophobic or biphobic conduct in the workplace or in the delivery of services to the community.

Conference underscores the importance of all public services being provided without discrimination and meeting the needs of all. Conference believes that religious belief should not be allowed to create an ‘opt out’ from this core principle.

Conference further notes with concern that changes which came into force in September 2008 give new exemptions to faith based voluntary aided schools, so that for the first time non-teaching staff may be discriminated against on grounds of faith and whether their conduct is in accordance with the ethos of the school.

Conference also expresses its concern that religious exemptions for voluntary aided and voluntary controlled faith schools have a negative impact on the learning environment for young LGBT people and those from LGBT families.

Conference therefore instructs the National Executive Council to:

1.Continue to campaign vigorously for all public services to be based on the principle of non discrimination and access for all;

2.If necessary – should it not be made clear on appeal that civil registrars do not have the right to opt out of civil partnership services – work with the National LGBT Committee, Labour Link, Trades Union Congress, LGBT Labour and other appropriate bodies to lobby and campaign for a change in law to ensure equality for LGBT people in employment and service delivery;

3.Widely publicise the existing legal provisions, including the Human Rights Act, relating to LGBT service users and workers;

4.Lobby for all state-funded schools to have recruitment and employment policies that do not discriminate on grounds of religion and belief.

5.Continue to work with the service groups and regions to promote awareness of employers’ responsibilities relating to service users and staff.