Gay press criticised for Ladele coverage

The reaction of the homosexual media to the bullying of the Christian registrar from Islington, Lillian Ladele, has been criticised by a gay writer.

“Lillian Ladele was bullied,” he says, “just as so many LGBT people have been, and are. Yet this time, the gay press sides with the bully because the bully is gay. How is this fair? How is this equality?”

We are reproducing the article here, in full, without any subtractions or additions. We don’t agree with every word, but it is a thoughtful piece which corrects some of the misreporting of the case.

On 3rd July 2008, Lillian Ladele, an Orthodox Christian registrar in the district of Islington, won an employment tribunal against her employer, Islington Council for direct and indirect discrimination based on her religious beliefs, and also for harassment. This was triumphed in the religious press as a victory for religion over homosexuality, and was criticised by the gay press for the same reason, but take a read into the case, and these beliefs become distorted.

Lillian Ladele had been working as a registrar of births, marriages and deaths for ten years before the announcement by the government to introduce civil partnership laws, allowing same sex couples to be recognised in the eyes of the law and to gain equal rights to those of a married couple. A marriage in all but name for some, a government cop out to equality for others. Being an Orthodox Christian, Lillian Ladele felt that her religious beliefs meant she could not assist in the registration of same sex couples, a view she made very clear even before the law was passed.

The law, as we know, was passed, and Lillian Ladele was, due to her beliefs, simply kept off the rota for civil partnership registrations. A seemingly acceptable compromise, and one replicated through many councils for people with similar beliefs. The law itself created the position of civil partnership registrars, and left it to councils to decide how they would implement these new roles. As it went, Islington decided that current registrars would, in addition to their previous responsibilities, also become a civil partnership registrar.

A couple of gay colleagues of Lillian Ladele took personal offence to her not participating in the registration of civil partnerships. They made unofficial and official complaints to managers, stating that her actions were in breach of the council’s Dignity For All policy, requiring equal treatment for all. The manager agreed with them, providing them with a copy of confidential official correspondences between herself and Lillian stating that, when the registry office was fully incorporated with the council, disciplinary action would be taken against her. Her colleagues in turn shared this confidential information with the staff LGBT group to further their complaints. According to the tribunal papers, they treated Lillian Ladele with a significant level of contempt, ignoring her in the office and gossiping behind her back, making the environment in the office unbearable.

The rest of the story is much more public. Lillian Ladele, with the backing of the Christian Institute, took Islington Council to an employment tribunal and won claims of religious discrimination and harassment. The outcry from the gay press was of course audible. Claims that this restricted gay rights and put equality for religious people above that for gay people came from most corners, with Peter Tatchell criticising it as a “dangerous subversion” and a “violation of human rights”.

I’m curious. Why do some people think that it is perfectly acceptable for a person to be bullied and harassed simply due to their beliefs? Surely this is just as bad as a person being bullied and harassed due to their sexuality? Some criticism of this case is painful to read, with some gay people doing a 360° by criticising in exactly the same way that gay people have been criticised for just being gay.

Now, I’m not saying I agree with Lillian Ladele’s beliefs, nor am I saying that we should let these beliefs go unchallenged, but I am saying that, if we truly want equality, we have to be prepared to extend this equality to people that we don’t like. Again, I’m not saying that we should be legally enshrining the right for people to be homophobic, but I think at the moment we have to accept that people are, to varying degrees, still uncomfortable with LGBT people, and shouting them down will hardly change their opinions. In the employment tribunal papers, Lillian Ladele points out that, at times when she has had contact with gay people, she has always been courteous and polite, yet the gay press slag her, and most of religion, into the ground without any thought to professionalism. Who’s making the effort towards equality here?

The main argument around this case, at least to LGBT people, is that a registrar has been allowed to not carry out civil partnership registrations. Why should this bother us? She works (and has done for over ten years) as part of a team of registrars who deal with all birth, death and marriage registrations in the borough. One person not carrying out civil partnership registrations will not affect anyone. There is never going to be a situation when there isn’t someone else to officiate at the ceremony, she’s not doing less work, as instead she just does another registration acceptable to her; the fact that she isn’t doing civil partnership registrations affects no one.

My opinion would change if someone started a job as a registrar and refused to perform civil partnership ceremonies. Lillian Ladele had been forced to accept a change to her job description by having to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies. She’d been doing the job for over ten years. Expecting someone to quit their job because they are being forced to do something that they do not want to do seems very unfair to me. However anyone accepting a job as a registrar now would know that they had to officiate at civil partnership ceremonies.

People fear that this judgement will set precedent for future cases. I won’t claim that this is impossible, I guess if we combined a particularly gay unfriendly judge with a poor defence team, we could get similar result, but this isn’t the pivotal decision between gay rights and religious freedom at all. This is a very extreme case, with some nasty gays, poor management and a woman unfortunate enough to be in an occupation directly affected by civil partnership laws. I can’t think of a similar situation where this could occur. I guess we might see similar cases revolving around lesbians and access to IVF treatment, though I at least imagine being an IVF nurse is a bit more transferable than being a registrar.

The case is being appealed by the council, and this time I believe Stonewall will be backing the council. Perhaps this will provide a bit more of a level playing field, after all, Lillian Ladele had the backing of the Christian Institute. Although a judgement on compensation was initially set to be delivered on the 25th September 2008, the date of the appeal is yet to be set. I look forward to reading the result of any appeal.

Lillian Ladele was bullied, just as so many LGBT people have been, and are. Yet this time, the gay press sides with the bully because the bully is gay. How is this fair? How is this equality?

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