Rebel Scum is not exclusively devoted to the machinations of religious groups. It just so happens that each month another Christian group has been beavering away to use secular machinery to enforce its message while at the same time mounting an attack on logic and reason. That said, the March ruling of the Employment Tribunal against a registrar in Islington, London, who refused to perform civil-partnership ceremonies is a victory for both law and reason. Nevertheless, the case has shown the workings of the Christian Institute, and the extent to which newspapers such as the Daily Mail provide support to its cause through unquestioning coverage.
First of all, what is this case all about? Lillian Ladele is a registrar who worked in the borough of Islington. She refused to perform ceremonies for same-sex civil partnerships because it went against her religious beliefs. It was ruled in July 2008 that Miss Ladele suffered religious discrimination and harassment and it has taken until March 2009 for this ruling to be definitively overturned.
The Daily Mail portrayed this as a sob-story about a struggling single-mother – not usually a category the Mail would champion – who is a devout Christian and still feels guilty about having her son out of wedlock. “Christian registrar who refused to marry gay couples reveals bullying ordeal at hands of politically correct colleagues” ran the headline of the article. It is typical button-pushing punditry.
Ladele claimed that she said she “would not be able to conduct civil partnerships because it states in the Bible that marriage occurs between a man and a woman, not people of the same sex, and, as a Christian, I try to follow what the Bible teaches.” Yes, but what part of the bible? Leviticus? “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.” If she were to go on a killing spree in order to fulfil this dictum would religious freedom be her defense? This may be a facile point, but really, if religion is the issue what is she doing performing secular marriage ceremonies at all?
The most obvious point is that a civil-partnership is the legal equivalent to marriage, but it is not marriage. Even the American Family Association can get their heads around this. They like to state loudly – which is their default position on the subject of homosexuality – that same-sex marriage is illegal in Britain. Marriage in a registry office is a secular affair regardless of sexual orientation.
The portrayal of Ladele as an innocent victim who simply followed the rule of the Bible is a narrative device that is, in the end, irrelevant. The Daily Mail gets lost in it, failing to make any real analysis of the story to hand, but the issue is simple: a registrar is employed in a secular institution to enact the law of the land.
Ladele’s legal costs were paid by The Christian Institute, who state that “all sex outside marriage is wrong. This means that fornication, adultery and homosexual practice are wrong.” The Christian Institute likes to present such cases as if it is the poor Christian who is being bullied by politically corrects thugs. Colin Hart, its Director, said of the March decision stating that Ladele does not in fact have a case against her employers, “gay rights are not the only rights. If this decision is allowed to stand it will help squeeze out Christians from the public sphere because of their religious beliefs on ethical issues.” This is playground politics with buzz words. What the Institute is in effect arguing for is the right to persecute and discriminate against others. And the right to discard any laws it considers “wrong”.
Words and their meaning get turned around in such conflicts. It is our duty not to get enmeshed in the twists of meaning, and not to resort to name-calling and bullying in return. The law is there to afford protection. That is the weapon that should be used.
Links and Further Reading
Terry Sanderson of The National Secular Society writes on The Christian Institute as a propaganda machine:
Terry Sanderson’s response to the original decision by the employment tribunal who upheld Ladele’s claims:
The Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance (OCRT) have a website which attempts to provide insight into the arguments for religious tolerance:
Opponents to gay marriage often cite Scripture but as Lisa Miller points out in this Newsweek article, the Bible’s teachings on love make a healthy counter argument:
The courts must help employers navigate the uncharted waters of the religion and belief regulations, writes Audrey Williams, head of discrimination law at the law firm Eversheds:
Last year the fundamentalist group, The Christian Institute whilst backing bigot MP Iris Robinson’s vile and disciminatory statements about homsexuality also claimed that it was a curable lifestyle ‘choice’: