Recently an employment tribunal for a civil registrar has caused a great ruckus. One Ms Ladele refused to preside over civil partnerships because she believes them to be wrong based on her religion (A version of Christianity). The tribunal ruled that Ms Ladele had been harassed and discriminated against.
I wanted to put down a few of my opinions concerning both the harassment and the discrimination.
Firstly the harassment:
1) Harassment does not become acceptable merely on the basis that someone is racist, sexist or homophobic.
2) Without further information I would assume that the court decided correctly that Ms Ladele was subject to harassment. In particular I would understand this to mean that Ms Ladele must not have voiced her homophobic views in a way that would itself constitute harassment.
3) I would also assume that Ms Ladele had informed those harassing her that she considered their behavior to be harassment and that they never the less continued. Remember that Ms Ladele's colleagues had recourse to the employment tribunal.
Secondly the discrimination:
I see no reason that religious viewpoints should be afforded any special status just because they are religious.
Requests that religious people make should be considered on a par with other personal requests made by people of common beliefs/convictions. I shall give some examples (religious and non-religious) of such requests along with an analysis of the reasonableness of the request:
A) I request vegetarian food from my college canteen.
This is reasonable. About 5% of the UK population are strict vegetarians (higher for the younger demographic). The overall cost of providing food is less if you provide vegetarian dishes so this request is easy to meet.
B) Muslim's in my college request that lectures do not take place at a certain time on Fridays to allow them to attend prayer.
This may be reasonable if the lecture schedules are not too packed. If they are then it may turn out to be a case that differing groups have incompatible requests. If so the requests should be weighed up considering how many people made them. How many requests an individual or group makes is also important. If the Muslim student body only makes this request then it should probably be met. If they make hundreds of similar requests then they probably shouldn't be met (I'm not aware on any such situation arising).
C) A land lord refuses to rent out a property to anyone who listens to rap music.
This is unreasonable. Although those who listen to this musical form may be statistically more likely to damage the property the land lord is treating the individual on the basis of their membership of a group not on their (morally relevant) behavior. The land lord may dislike rap music or think that it is a musical perversion but that still does not justify their position. Of course the land lord would be within their rights to insist that the music is not played at too high a level but that is a different matter.
D) Ms Ladele's refusal to officiate over civil partnerships.
This is unreasonable. By doing this Ms Ladele will ensure that civil partnerships get a lower standard of service (waiting times etc.) than they otherwise would. Her request is one whose cost will be met by the gay community not herself. It is an unreasonable request because it interferes with other people's rights in a significant way.