Skip to content

‘Equal Opportunities’ means that Homosexual Rights Trump Christian Rights in Employment, Court rules

Printer-friendly version

Press Release

For Immediate Release

‘Equal Opportunities’ means that Homosexual Rights Trump Christian Rights in Employment, Court rules

30 November 2009

CHRISTIANS in employment in the UK will no longer be able to act according to their consciences - after a landmark Employment Appeal Tribunal case which declared the rights of homosexual couples trump those of people of faith and conscience.

Gary McFarlane, a 48-year-old solicitor and part-time relationship counsellor with Relate (Avon) was dismissed by the charity for failing to give an unequivocal commitment to help same-sex couples improve their sex lives. Mr McFarlane claimed unfair dismissal and discrimination contrary to the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

The Counsellor, a former elder of a large multicultural church in Bristol, believes the Bible teaches that same-sex sexual practice is contrary to biblical teaching and therefore that he should do nothing which endorses this activity. Mr McFarlane had no objection to others in Relate counselling couples needing advice on same-sex activity, but for him it was a simple issue of conscience.

Mr McFarlane was dismissed by Relate (Avon) for his views. He appealed internally but his appeal was rejected. He then took Relate to the Employment Tribunal, and after losing his case, appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Judgment by Mr Justice Underhill, President of the EAT, was handed down today at 10.30am. The Court dismissed the appeal. (See Editor’s notes below for case history).

Mr McFarlane said: “This decision is a stark warning to people of conscience in this nation that as a result of 12 years of Labour rule, the British establishment no longer values the democratic rights of its citizens to hold conscience as a matter of principle.

“Society is the worse for not allowing people of conscience to exercise legitimate rights”

Mr McFarlane was supported in his appeal by the Christian Legal Centre, and instructed leading human rights barrister, Paul Diamond, and Mr Thomas Cordrey to represent him.

Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of CLC said: “Mr McFarlane was quite prepared for other counsellors to help same-sex couples in psychosexual counselling. He simply asked that on the rare occasions he was asked to do the same, his employer roster another counsellor to handle the case. This would have respected both the best interests of the counsellor and client.

“The seriously worrying underlying point in this case, which the Court has refused to accept, is that for religious belief to be protected it is necessary to uphold the right to manifest that belief. The effect of this judgment is to rule out any expression of deeply-held conscience, even when the expression is limited to a very reasonable, practicable and sensible request to be assigned work such that worker and client are best served and that the work is tenable for the worker. This ruling goes against all notion of religious conscience protection and also against common sense.

“Time and time again in British Courts we see that freedom of religion, Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, offers no protection whatsoever to Christians and other people of faith with a conscience.”

“Mr McFarlane will be appealing this decision. We will take this as far as is necessary, even if we have to go all the way to the Supreme Court and then Europe. We will press on until justice prevails’




For further information/interview:

Andrea Minichiello Williams (CLC): 0771 2591164

Libby Blaxall: 07912 562 996


Editor’s Note:

Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights:

1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Case History:

Mr McFarlane joined Relate in May 2003 as a volunteer counsellor, and became a paid part-time employee in August of that year. He was required to, and did, sign up to its equal opportunities policy. He initially worked in marital and couples counselling (sometimes referred to simply as “couples counselling” or “relationship counselling”). The main object of such counselling is to improve the relationship between the client couple; the issues covered might, but need not, cover sexual issues, but such counselling is not intended to cover cases of specific sexual dysfunction or disorder. In December 2005 the Claimant was asked to assist a lesbian couple in relationship issues. He discussed this with his concerns supervisor and agreed to counsel the couple as it did not involve endorsement of any sexual relationship between them. He subsequently counselled parties to two other lesbian relationships without any difficulty, although in neither case did any specifically sexual issues arise.

However, in September 2006, Mr McFarlane wanted to undertake a diploma course in psycho-sexual therapy (“PST”). Such therapy is concerned specifically with problems of sexual dysfunction and may include a directive approach designed to facilitate and encourage greater satisfaction in a couple’s sexual activity. Such work was, inevitably, liable to give rise to a much more intractable conflict with the Claimant’s religious beliefs. The counsellor raised with his employers the possibility of being exempted from any obligation to work with same-sex couples where specifically sexual issues were involved.

In December 2007, the charity said that any such stance would be in conflict with Relate’s equal opportunities policy, and that accepting this request would reduce the amount of work the counsellor would be able to do, and was likely to lead to similar requests from other counsellors.

Mr McFarlane was asked to agree to carry out relationship counselling work, where it involved same-sex sexual issues, both in general counselling and in PST work.

He was further advised in writing that if he said no, “it may be necessary to take disciplinary action against you in accordance with Relate's disciplinary policy on account of a failure to follow a reasonable instruction and Relate's procedures and regulations, which could result in acts of discrimination. In addition it may be necessary to consider the withdrawal of your placement at this Centre for your psychosexual therapy training”.

The counsellor responded that his only difficultly was about offering PST – as opposed to couples counselling – to same-sex couples or individuals, and that he felt any disciplinary action was premature.

The charity took the reply as a refusal to accept their conditions and initiated the disciplinary procedure. On 7 January the Counsellor said that he would seek to abide by the Policy of the organisation and that if there were any issues he would raise them with his supervisor. The charity first regarded this as acceptable and brought the disciplinary proceedings to a halt. However, Mr McFarlane’s supervisor told the charity that her confidence in the counsellor had been reduced.,”. The Counsellor was brought before a further disciplinary hearing in March and the charity wrote to him advising he was being summarily dismissed. The reason for his dismissal was stated as follows: “That on 7 January 2008 you stated to Relate that you would comply with its Equal Opportunities policy and Professional Ethics policy in relation to work with same-sex couples and same-sex sexual activities, when you had no and have no intention of complying with Relate’s policies on those issues.”

The Claimant appealed against his dismissal but the appeal was dismissed. Mr McFarlane then took the matter to the Employment Tribunal, and after losing his case he appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Judgment by Mr Justice Underhill was handed down today at 10.30am. The Court dismissed the appeal.


Subscribe to our emails