European Court Rules Religion Does Not Justify Anti-Gay Discrimination

Lilian Ladele, who refused to officiate same-sex civil partnership ceremonies.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled against two British Christians who claimed their religious beliefs entitled them to discriminate against gays and lesbians. In one case, Lilian Ladele was a city registrar who refused to officiate civil partnership ceremonies between same-sex couples as part of her duties. In another, Gary McFarlane was a counselor for a confidential sex therapy and relationship counseling organization who refused to provide support for same-sex couples. In both cases they were removed from their positions, so both brought complaints that their religious beliefs had been violated.

In its ruling against them, the Court argued that their beliefs did not justify the discrimination against same-sex couples:

The Court considered that the most important factor to be taken into account was that the policies of the applicants’ employers – to promote equal opportunities and to require employees to act in a way which did not discriminate against others – had the legitimate aim of securing the rights of others, such as same-sex couples, which were also protected under the [European Convention on Human Rights]. In particular, in previous cases the Court had held that differences in treatment based on sexual orientation required particularly serious justification and that same-sex couples were in a relevantly similar situation to different-sex couples as regards their need for legal recognition and protection of their relationship.

The authorities therefore had wide discretion when it came to striking a balance between the employer’s right to secure the rights of others and the applicants’ right to manifest their religion. The Court decided that the right balance had been struck.

This judgment represents a significant blow to conservatives’ argument that their religious beliefs entitle them to discriminate against the LGBT community. Indeed, they are entitled to hold their anti-LGBT beliefs, but not to infringe on others’ rights.