Housing manager in court over gay marriage comments

Wed, 17 Oct 2012

A housing manager who was demoted after he said on Facebook that gay weddings in churches were “an equality too far” goes to court tomorrow to recover his lost earnings.

Adrian Smith lost his managerial position and had his salary cut by 40 per cent after his employer, Trafford Housing Trust, said his Facebook comments amounted to gross misconduct.

Despite internal appeals the Trust has refused to climb down, so Mr Smith is taking his employer to court claiming it acted unlawfully.

Trial

A two day trial will begin at Manchester County Court tomorrow to decide whether the Trust breached Mr Smith’s employment contract and interfered with his right to free speech.

His case is being supported by The Christian Institute, a national charity that protects the civil liberty of Christians.

The case comes to court amid huge controversy surrounding the Government’s plans to redefine marriage.

Punished

If the meaning of marriage changes supporters of traditional marriage say they will be penalised for their beliefs, including in the workplace.

Campaigners on all sides of the gay marriage debate have firmly criticised the Trust’s heavy-handed actions and the former Housing Minister, Grant Shapps MP, also voiced concerns.

It all began on Sunday 13 February 2011 when Mr Smith saw an article on the BBC News website headlined “Gay church marriages get go ahead”.

“Too far”

He linked to the article on his personal Facebook page and added the comment: “an equality too far”.

His Facebook page can only be viewed by friends, and friends of friends, but not by the general public. Some of his colleagues are listed as his Facebook friends.

Two colleagues read the remark and one of them posted a response asking Mr Smith to explain what he meant.

Conscience

On the evening of Monday 14 February Mr Smith posted: “I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.

“The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”

Bosses at Trafford Housing Trust were alerted to the comments, and took disciplinary action against Mr Smith. The Trust says he broke their code of conduct.

Criticised

It later emerged that the Trust was worried that it may lose a gay rights charter award unless it took action against Mr Smith.

The Trust’s action was swiftly criticised by many, including gay rights activist Peter Tatchell. He said: “I am backing his bid for reinstatement and I’m prepared to testify in his defence. Strange but true.”

He said if a gay employee had been treated this way “there would quite rightly be an outcry and accusations of homophobia. Why, then, are some lesbian and gay people supporting such a harsh penalty for Adrian Smith?”

Reasonable

He added: “Adrian Smith made his comments in his own time on his own facebook page, which is not viewed by the general public. He expressed an opinion.

“He did not personally discriminate against anyone. There is no evidence that he has treated any of his gay housing clients adversely.

“Smith voiced his opinion in a calm, non-abusive manner. He was not threatening or intimidating.”

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