Mr McFarlane was sacked because he said his Christian beliefs prevented him giving sex therapy to homosexual couples. The Employment Tribunal was in December and Mr McFarlane was represented by religious liberties specialist, Barrister, Paul Diamond.
Gary McFarlane had worked for Relate since 2003. Although Mr McFarlane had never had to provide sex therapy to a same sex couple, he thought that if the situation did arise, he would be able to discuss his Christian views with his supervisors so that his position could be discussed and if necessary accommodated.
Any such discussions were, however, pre-empted by unexpected meetings between Mr McFarlane and his manager in October 2007 when he was asked to state his views regarding same sex couples. Despite explaining that he would counsel couples in compliance with Relate's Equal Opportunities Policy, and that he would raise any issues with his supervisors and manager, as good practice required, Mr McFarlane was suspended in early January 2008 and then dismissed in March 2008. Mr McFarlane was given no other choice than to subject his religious faith to the Equal Opportunities Policy.
However, although he won his wrongful dismissal claim, the Tribunal held that his claim of religious discrimination should fail. The Tribunal recognised powerful arguments on both sides, but held that the provision of non-discriminatory services was important.
Andrea Minichiello Williams Director of the Christian Legal Centre said: “The law is in a confused state; in the case of Lillian Ladele, the Islington Registrar, the Court held that Christian belief must give way to the rights of same sex couples; but in the case of Gary McFarlane there is a finding of wrongful dismissal. The courts and public are confused; we call on the Government to recognise the legitimate expression of conscience by Christians in the area of sexual orientation and provide protection where necessary.”
Although Miss Ladele won her case, Islington council in London mounted a successful appeal. Mr McFarlane said that: “If I were a Muslim, this would not have happened. But Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights.”
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