John Macmillan: Can churches avoid gay unions?

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THE Scottish Government has committed itself to the introduction of same-sex marriage, but on the basis that no person would be forced to conduct such a ceremony in a church.

As the Equality Act 2010 is currently written, there is an escape hatch that allows organised religion to avoid some of the Equality Act terms in the “employment” arena. For example, it allows the Roman Catholic Church (and other churches) to fulfil its doctrine of only appointing males as priests.

However, those fulfilling a public function are required by the same act not to discriminate. Marrying people must be a public function. So, if the law allows same-sex marriage, then arguably there should be no difference for churches.

The Scottish Government has said the UK Government would require to amend the act to allow the churches to avoid the proposed new legislation by another escape hatch.

Will Westminster do that to accommodate what is currently a purely Scots initiative? And will Westminster be concerned that that would be out of step with increasing rights for homosexuals? The Court of Appeal in England has suggested in the Ladele case that “orientation” rights prevail over “belief” rights within UK law.

Ms Ladele was a registrar in London. A strongly committed Christian, she was dismissed when she refused to conduct civil partnerships on religious grounds.

If the law says same-sex marriage is acceptable, why should churches be exempt?

Churches could be sued if they refuse to accept couples for marriage on orientation grounds.

* John Macmillan is a specialist employment lawyer with MacRoberts.