Marriage Registrars, Same-Sex Relationships, and Religious Discrimination in the European Court of Human Rights
46 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2016 Last revised: 5 Jul 2017
Date Written: July 20, 2016
The case of Ladele v United Kingdom was decided in January 2015 by the European Court of Human Rights. Lillian Ladele was a marriage registrar, with years of good service, employed by a London local authority (the London Borough of Islington). The law in the United Kingdom changed whilst she was in post to permit civil partnerships between same-sex couples. Ms Ladele had a sincere conscientious objection to performing civil partnership ceremonies, arising from her Christian faith. In spite of her protests, Ms Ladele was designated to register and perform civil partnership ceremonies by the local authority, contrary to her religion and conscience. She refused, was disciplined, and forced to resign. She claimed religious discrimination in the national courts, won at first instance, lost at the domestic appellate level, and then took her case to the European Court of Human Rights, where she also lost. Using the Ladele case, but ranging well beyond it, I explore some of the more important implications of using a religious discrimination claim in the context of refusals by public employers to permit their employees to exercise a religiously-based conscientious objection to the provision of a service provided by that employer, particularly the refusal by a public marriage registrar to officiate at ceremonies that involve the state recognizing a same-sex couple’s legal status as civil partners or married. I explore also the differences between a claim for protection based on a freedom of religion argument, from one based on a claim of religious discrimination. Doing so provides the opportunity to explore what, exactly, a claim of religious discrimination involves, and how it relates to the theory of anti-discrimination law more generally.
Keywords: Marriage Registrars, Same-Sex Relationships, Civil Partnerships, Religious Discrimination, European Court of Human Rights, Conscientious Objection, Theory of Anti-Discrimination Law, Religious Freedo
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