Tribunal rules against Christian counsellor

A Christian relationship counsellor whose beliefs prevented him from offering sex therapy to same-sex couples has lost his claim of religious discrimination.

Gary McFarlane was fired by counselling service Relate in 2008 because he told his superiors he could not provide sex therapy for same-sex couples.

He asked for Relate, his employer since 2003, to allow him to avoid such cases. However, he was instead labelled ‘homophobic’, suspended and then dismissed by the service.

The case has been compared to that of Christian registrar Lillian Ladele, who asked her employer, Islington Council, for a conscience exemption from registering homosexual civil partnerships.

In both cases, although no same-sex couple was denied access to services, simply failing to comply with an equal opportunities policy was enough to spark disciplinary proceedings.

An Employment Tribunal has now rejected Mr McFarlane’s claim of religious discrimination, recognising powerful arguments on both sides but holding that the provision of non-discriminatory services was important. It did, however, uphold his claim of wrongful dismissal because of procedural errors.

Mr McFarlane, who was supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), said: “Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights.”

Andrea Minichiello Williams, the Director of the CLC, said: “It is important to note that Mr. McFarlane has never refused to counsel a same sex couple; he merely raised the potential conflict between his Christian faith and homosexual conduct.

“It is deeply disturbing that the mere expression of religious belief with an inability to give unqualified support to sexual orientation issues means that a Christian can be dismissed with no attempt to provide suitable accommodation for his or her beliefs.

“The law preventing religious discrimination against Christians is in danger of becoming a dead letter.”

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