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Victory for Christian registrar dismissed for refusing to conduct same-sex 'marriages'

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A Christian registrar who was sacked for indicating she would not be willing to conduct same-sex weddings has been reinstated after a successful appeal.
 
Margaret Jones (54), a Senior Deputy Registrar at Bedford register office, was asked by her employers in 2013 whether her Christian beliefs would prevent her from conducting same-sex weddings in light of the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.
 
On 28 March 2014, just one day before the first same-sex 'marriages' were due to be performed in the UK, Margaret had a meeting with management and confirmed that, as a Christian, she believed marriage can only be between one man and one woman. She said she would be unwilling to conduct same-sex weddings as she "would not be able to say the words and be sincere.”  At the meeting, Margaret was told the council's position was that she either perform same-sex 'marriages' or resign.
 
In April 2014, a formal investigation was launched after Margaret was accused of "gross misconduct".  It was alleged that her refusal to conduct same-sex weddings was in breach of her role and amounted to a failure to follow management instruction.
 
Margaret went through an internal disciplinary process and explained that whilst she could not perform same-sex weddings, she would be willing to register the marriages and deal with administrative tasks.  She explained that since every marriage ceremony requires two members of staff - one to conduct and one to register - she could simply register the marriage, with the result that no couple would be denied a service.
 
In May 2014, Margaret was dismissed on the basis that her refusal to perform same-sex weddings breached equality laws and "brought the council into disrepute". At the time of her sacking, Margaret's shifts did not coincide with any pre-booked same-sex weddings, which meant she had not refused to perform the same-sex wedding of an actual couple.
 
“As I have not done anything wrong, I am being sacked for my belief, not my actions,” she said.
 
But last month, Margaret's appeal against her dismissal was upheld unanimously by a panel of Central Bedfordshire Council Members.  The panel decided that the council had not fully investigated ways of accommodating Margaret’s religious beliefs and that evidence had been found that in other cases “informal custom and practice arrangements had been developed in order to accommodate individual staff situations.”
 
In a letter reversing Margaret’s dismissal, the council said its appeal panel had decided that further consideration could have been given at the disciplinary hearing to ways of accommodating her “deeply held religious beliefs.”  The letter informed Margaret she would be reinstated with no financial loss and that any reference to gross misconduct would be “expunged from all records.”
 
Paul Diamond, Standing Counsel to the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), which has supported Margaret over the issue said: "All good employers should follow this precedent, and practising Christians should no longer fear expressing their beliefs.”
 
Andrea Williams, CEO of the CLC, said: "For several years, with your support, we have stood with those who have suffered unnecessarily as a result of equalities legislation, pressing for the reasonable accommodation of Christian beliefs in the workplace in both domestic and European courts.  
 
"We hope that employers begin to demonstrate a greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The council's decision is an encouragement to Christians to stand calmly but boldly in the public sphere."
 
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