Christian counsellor should have gay opt-out, employment tribunal told

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A man sacked from relationships counselling organisation Relate claimed that his refusal to treat gay couples was parallel to doctors refusing to carry out an abortion, an employment tribunal heard yesterday.

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

He 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 as giving them sex therapy would be “encouraging sin.”

The employment tribunal was told yesterday that he was the victim of office gossip about his religious views on gay people and this led to him being questioned about his stance.

In an email to his manager he made the comparison with NHS doctors who refuse to carry out abortions.

Michael Bennett, Avon Relate manager, told the hearing:

“We asked him whether he will comply with our equal opportunity policy and in PST (psychosexual therapy) that would put his views under great stress and Mr McFarlane felt there was no practical way.

“We dismissed him for a lack of confidence and trust on where he stood on our equal opportunities policy.

“His religious faith is not relevant, it is the application of it to the equal opportunities policy.”

Mr Bennett said that any attempt to segregate homosexual couples and heterosexual couples to comply with Mr McFarlane’s beliefs would break equal opportunity rules.

The tribunal continues.