Relationships counsellor who refuses gay couples to go to tribunal

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A man who claims he has been discriminated against because he is a Christian is to take relationships counselling organisation Relate to an employment tribunal.

Gary McFarlane says the publicly-funded national counselling service failed to accommodate his faith or allow him to try to overcome his reservations.

Mr McFarlane worked for Relate in Avon and is also a solicitor and a part-time tutor on relationships at Trinity Theological College in Bristol.

He said that he has “overcome” his prejudices against same-sex couples since he began working as a Relate counsellor in 2003, but now that he is training to be a psychosexual therapist, he feels he cannot deal with gay and lesbian people.

“In counselling, you are drawing the couple out, going on a journey with them, enabling them to think in more than black and white,” he told the Daily Mail.

“You are not telling anyone what to do or endorsing what they do.

“But in sex therapy you are diagnosing their problems and setting them a treatment plan, not unlike a doctor.”

He claims it would be incompatible with his Christian beliefs to ‘promote’ homosexual sex.

After complaints by staff at Relate about his views, he was suspended and later told he would face a disciplinary hearing. Eventually he was dismissed.

“If I was a Muslim this would not happen,” Mr McFarlane claimed.

“They would find a way to make the system work. But Christians seem to have fewer and fewer rights. Relate needs to be forced to work through stuff like this.

“There was a group who didn’t want me there and they got their teeth in.

“I was prepared to explore my reservations but they wanted unconditional assurances that they would never become an issue for me.

“Why did they have to slam the door like that? This could force other Christians out of counselling.

“Some have already reacted with consternation, saying if it could happen to someone of my experience and skills, it could happen to them.”

His tribunal follows the case of Lillian Ladele, who won her employment tribunal against Islington Council.

A registrar, she had refused to carry out civil partnerships because she claimed they conflicted with her Christian views.

The tribunal found she had been discriminated against because of her fatih. Islington is appeaing the ruling.

Relate dealt with gay couples before Mr McFarlane joined in 2003.

The charity, founded in 1938, receives millions of pounds in funding from the government.

Trained practitioners see 150,000 clients each year.

The service is available in 600 locations to married, co-habiting, same-sex relationships, separated, divorced or single people.

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of gay equality organisation Stonewall, said:

“It does seem extraordinary that someone who is involved in providing a mediation service should say he cannot do it becase he has unmovable views.

“Given that Relate, since the time he joined it, has always worked with gay couples, he does not even have the Lillian Ladele defence that it crept up on him.

“Relate receive public money and it is perfectly right that they should provide a service equally to the members of the general public who pay their wages.”

A spokeswoman for Relate declined to comment until the employment tribunal has taken place.