Jesurgislac’s Journal

July 11, 2008

Civil partnership is not a religious ceremony

In a nutshell, here’s what happened: Lillian Ladele, an Islington registrar, came back to work in November 2005 from a long period on sick leave, to find that she was listed as a registrar who would conduct civil partnership ceremonies when the Civil Partnership Act became law in 2005. Ladele claimed she had told her manager a year earlier that she would not do civil partnership ceremonies, asserting that as a Christian she believed gay sex is sinful, so she felt she shouldn’t solemnize same-sex relationships in a civil ceremony.

I believe Lillian Ladele’s reasoning was thoroughly faulty – first in thinking she had any right to let her private religious beliefs affect another couple’s civil ceremony, second in supposing that a civil partnership ceremony had anything to do with gay sex.

Two other registrars had already said they did not want to conduct civil partnership ceremonies because of their religious beliefs: one had decided to leave, the other had taken a different position at the same salary. Ladele was offered a compromise solution: she would not be asked to conduct ceremonies, but she must agree to take part in the non-ceremonial aspects of civil partnership. Ladele refused this compromise. She also objected to being moved off working Saturdays, which meant she had less to do with civil partnership or marriage work – Saturday being the most popular day for either – but also meant she didn’t get regular overtime payments.

This came into the news earlier this year, when Ladele took her employer to a tribunal, alleging harassment and discrimination on the grounds of religion. And I have to admit, the first news reports suggested that the tribunal ought to uphold her employer. Ladele complained of “hostility” from the other members of the team, especially two gay men who’d complained about her homophobia: I thought (I still think) that if Ladele thought she could say “Hey, my religion tells me you people don’t deserve the same civil rights as I do!” and not get hostility, she was the sheltered child of heterosexual privilege.

But unfortunately, I then read the tribunal report. And while the sections where Ladele outlines her gay-hatin’ gospel are painful to read, it’s equally if not more painful to read that her manager handled it very, very badly.

Ladele’s views on civil partnership had become matter for open discussion around her workplace: her refusal to perform ceremonies was discussed at a staff meeting and at a team day: her manager did nothing to stop this public discussion, and even may have abetted it (Ladele says her manager told her she was “discriminatory” in front of other staff). Two colleagues went to an external group (the council’s LGBT Network) and told the Network about Ladele’s refusal to perform ceremonies and why, and this was way over the line.

It’s possible that Ladele herself started this – that she herself had said openly to other staff what her views were about gay sex and civil partnership. If so, her manager ought to have warned her not to do that, in private, and made clear to the rest of the staff that Ladele’s views were not for open discussion. It doesn’t appear that this happened. Even if Ladele did start it, her employer had a duty of care towards her: she was owed the chance to have a private verbal warning about making other colleagues uncomfortable with open discussion of her homophobic religious beliefs.

I don’t think Ladele behaved well: I think she’s a homophobic bigot who uses her religion as justification to deny others civil rights, and who seems to have no notion that asserting “gay sex is sinful” is an offensive thing to say to LGBT people and their friends.

But I don’t actually care if homophobic bigots behave well or not. I do care if we ourselves and our allies behave well. And it seems clear from the tribunal report that Ladele’s refusal to perform ceremonies was handled badly, and that she was bullied at work because of her refusal. She shouldn’t have been. I don’t want my civil rights defended by workplace bullies, because that puts us in the wrong.


  1. yes, she’s very probably a bigot. And yes, her management handled it very badly.

    Congragulations. You read the judgement and made up your own mind. It puts you in a small minority.

    One thing: her management also released the information that she was going to face disciplinary charges to her co-workers, who then, as you say, published it. It’s a very serious breach of confidentiality. They also never replied to her letters explaining her position.

    It won’t form any great precedent, hopefully. At least not if most employers avoid the personnel mangement errors of islington council in this case.

    Comment by ballymichael — July 12, 2008 @ 10:34 pm | Reply

  2. I share your hopes that there will be no legal precedent.

    From the tribunal’s judgement, they merely said that if her employers could do so without providing a poorer service, they should have respected her religious beliefs. Which certainly applies to a large and busy service like Islington.

    The fact that Ladele could prove she had been bullied and harassed was by far the clearer part of the case, and I’m still annoyed/sad that she had such a clear case.

    Comment by jesurgislac — July 14, 2008 @ 7:37 am | Reply

  3. This is one of the most balanced accounts of the Ladele ruling. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of the appeal. Perhaps it will clarify that while she had a personal grievance over the mismanagement she doesn’t have the right to pick and choose whether she marries serial polygamist adulterers without turning a hair at the same time refusing to solemnise a civil partnership. All this arose in her muddled (bigoted?) Christian conscience despite the fact that there is no legal presumption that sex takes place or that even the orientation of the partners is defined. All that is required is that they are same-sex, not in an undissolved marriage and not related. It needs spelling out to her and to any prospective employee registrars who may share her unease so let’s hope the Appeals court makes it clear that the tribunal ruling is not a religious get-out ticket. Once she knows God is not going to zap her for aiding and abetting sodomy will she feel different about it? I doubt it somehow. I suspect an invincibly closed mind and she’s got the Christian Institute just longing to use her to hole the SORs below the waterline.

    Comment by Chris — August 8, 2008 @ 10:38 am | Reply

  4. Thanks for your comment – and your praise! I do feel very strongly about workplace bullying – having worked under hostile managers myself, I think I can recognise the situation Ladele was in.

    Perhaps it will clarify that while she had a personal grievance over the mismanagement she doesn’t have the right to pick and choose whether she marries serial polygamist adulterers without turning a hair at the same time refusing to solemnise a civil partnership.

    I hope so. That would be ideal. Civil servants carrying out a civil ceremony really ought not to allow their own religious prejudices to interfere.

    At the same time, as some other commentator noted, this is (or ought to be) a strictly time-limited problem: anyone who became a registrar on or after the date of the Civil Partnership Act – effectively, from 2005 onwards – should be clear that the job includes solemnising civil partnership ceremonies. If they have an objection to doing that, they ought not to apply for the job. In effect, that’s the position the previous tribunal took – they were much stronger about the bad management/workplace bullying, and fairly moderate about Lillian Ladele’s conscience: her employers only had to indulge her if they could do so without providing a poorer service.

    Of course the Christian Institute have talked up the “Freedom of conscience!” aspect of it and touched on the workplace bullying only insofar as it suits them to try and make her into a Christian martyr. Nice though it would be to see them get kicked in the teeth, I do have a moderate amount of sympathy in general terms for someone who feels their job has changed under them and they’re being required to do things that they would never otherwise have agreed to do. But the general solution to that would seem to be to allow sideways transfers to another area with no loss of pay or seniority – exactly the solution another registrar took and that Lillian Ladele declined.

    Comment by jesurgislac — August 8, 2008 @ 12:20 pm | Reply

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