“A victory for religious liberty,” proclaimed Lillian Ladele. No, this isn’t a Muslim lifeguard winning the right to swim in full burqa or a Muslim barman getting out of serving beer. This time it’s a Christian registrar whose “landmark” claim of religious discrimination has been upheld. From the Telegraph:
Lillian Ladele, 47, can expect a large payout from Islington Council after she was bullied and threatened with the sack for asking to avoid civil partnerships because of her deeply held religious beliefs.
When she said she could not reconcile her faith with the union of gay men and women, she was treated like a “pariah” and the council showed no respect for her rights as a Christian, the tribunal found.
Tribunals have been pandering to Muslims and other minorities for long enough. It’s only fair Christians should get a look in. “A victory for Britain’s quiet majority,” said the Daily Mail, “and for … common sense in our courtrooms.”
But is it “common sense”? More to the point, is it any kind of victory for Britain’s “quiet majority”? Let’s look at the facts.
Since 2005, same-sex couples have been allowed by UK law to enter into civil partnerships. This is not the same as gay marriage, which in the EU is legal only in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain. While the legal rights and obligations of marriage and civil partnerships are nearly identical, there are two important differences.
First, just as marriage is only available to mixed couples, civil partnerships are only available to same-sex couples. The two are separate categories, although they convey equal legal rights. Gay marriage, as I understand it, means that there is only one category.
Thus, a registrar is not being asked to “marry” a gay couple, but to conduct a different kind of ceremony.
More importantly in this context, a civil partnership may only be a civil ceremony. Marriage may be either a religious ceremony or a civil ceremony. A civil partnership is a legal arrangement only — a set of contractual obligations. A registrar is not required to bless the union, or even to approve of it, but merely to perform the duties of his office.
The same might be said of conventional civil wedding ceremonies. A registry office is not a house of God; indeed it is explicitly Godless, since religious language is outlawed. Couples who have been living “in sin” may marry there, as may the oft-divorced. What Islington Council hath joined together, man may easily put asunder.