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.