UK: Equality commission says Christian registrars cannot opt out of marrying gay couples

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Christian registrars will not be able to opt out of performing marriages for gay couples because registrars are deemed to be public officials, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has said.

Giving evidence this week to a committee of MPs that are studying the (Marriage Same Sex Couples) Bill for England and Wales, the EHRC declared that although religious institutions are likely to face no legal sanctions for refusing to marry gay couples, public registrars, who perform civil partnerships and marriages on behalf of the state will be expected to comply fully with the new legislation.

“This is similar to requirements that have been placed on some registrars since the Civil Partnerships Act 2004, meaning many have been required to perform civil partnerships as part of their duties,” the EHRC stated.

According to the Telegraph, the EHRC said that existing opt-outs for registrars in some councils could be retained “for a time-limited period” as long as colleagues were available to perform the ceremonies.

But it warned that this would only be a “transitional” arrangement applying to existing registrars and not those who were employed in the future.

It added that employees working in the public sector, such as teachers and hospital chaplains, should be free to express their views on marriage without being disciplined; However, religious protection is “a qualified right” which “the state can interfere with” in some circumstances.

In January, Lillian Ladele, a former registrar from Islington, north London, lost a case at the European Court of Human Rights.

Ms Ladele had unsuccessfully argued that she should be permitted to opt out of performing civil partnership ceremonies for gay couples because of her Christian beliefs.

She accused Islington Council of discriminating against her on grounds of religion and initially won her case at an employment tribunal.

But that decision was overturned on appeal, in favour of the council which argued it had to prevent discrimination against gay people.

The Equality Act 2010 states that it’s illegal to refuse to provide goods and services based upon a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity.