Religious freedom in UK to be considered by Strasbourg Court

Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release

Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.

All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality.  Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.

The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed  intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.

Discrimination at London’s first gay pub

In its heyday

Lisboa v. Realpubs Ltd & Ors [2011] UKEAT 0224_10_1101 (11 January 2011) – Read judgment

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) has ruled that a well-known gay pub’s strategy to encourage straight customers led to gay customers being treated less favourably, meaning that the a gay employee was forced to resign.

The policies included seating straight customers at the front of the pub where they would be most visible to passers by. The Claimant was an employee of the well-known London pub the Coleherne. The Coleherne was thought to be the city’s first ‘gay pub’ and had been operating as such for the past forty years, but in September 2008 reopened as a gastro-pub, The Pembroke.

Continue reading

US ten years behind Britain on gay soldiers

Updated | Following the US Senate’s vote to repeal the ban on gay soldiers serving in the US military, it is interesting to compare the situation in the British Army, where gay soldiers have been allowed to serve since 2000.

The UK government was in fact forced to change its policy following a series of court rulings, as the US government might have been if the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy had made it to the Supreme Court, which was looking inevitable before the Senate vote.

Continue reading

UK discriminated by making same-sex relationship mum pay more child maintenance

J M v. The United Kingdom – 37060/06 [2010] ECHR 1361 – Read judgment

The European Court of Rights has declared that rules on child maintenance prior to introduction of the Civil Partnership Act discriminated against those in same-sex relationships.

The events happened nearly a decade ago and the law in relation to same-sex couples has greatly altered since, so it will be of limited relevance to those paying child benefit now. Of more interest is the reasoning of the majority in deciding the case under the right to peaceful enjoyment of property rather than the right to family life.

The case summary is based on the Court’s press release, and is followed by my comment.

Continue reading

Has the time come for gay marriage in the UK?

The deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats has said that gay couples are likely to gain full rights to marriage under the current Parliament. This would represent a revolution for gay rights, but there is still a long way to go before same-sex couples achieve full rights to marriage as they are arguably entitled to under human rights law.

Simon Hughes MP has told Yoost.com, a question and answer website, that Liberal Democrat MPs would be consulted on the rights of gay couples. He said “I don’t know the answer because we haven’t had the discussion“, but that

I see absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t all be able to support what Nick Clegg said, which is that it would be appropriate in Britain in 2010-11 for there to be the ability to have civil marriage for straight people and gay people equally.

Continue reading

A good and bad week for gay rights

In two recent but separate developments, homosexuals fleeing persecution have been granted a lower threshold for refugee status and the Strasbourg Court has rejected a complaint by a same sex couple that Austria was in violation of the Convention for not granting them the right to marry.

We posted earlier on the case of HJ (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31 (07 July 2010), in which the Supreme Court ruled as unlawful the government’s policy of sending refugees back to their home countries because they could avoid persecution if they acted discreetly.

There are two questions raised by this judgment and its implications. One concerns the extraterritorial reach of rights observed by signatory states to the Refugee and Human Rights Conventions. The second is the sheer practical difficulty of examining the veracity of a persecution claim based on these particular grounds.

Continue reading

Gay refugees cannot be sent home and told to hide their sexuality

HJ (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] UKSC 31 (07 July 2010) – Read Judgment

The Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s “Anne Frank” policy of sending back gay refugees to their home countries where they feared persecution is unlawful as it breached their human rights..

HJ and HT are both homosexual men and had been persecuted in their home countries – Iran and Cameroon respectively – after their sexual orientation had been discovered.

The court criticised the controversial policy, practised since 2006, of telling gay asylum seekers who feared prosecution in their home countries to hide their sexuality upon their return, rather than granting them asylum.  In the Court of Appeal the men’s barrister had referred to this as an “Anne Frank” policy, in that, like Anne Frank, the men would be safe if they hid from authorities but not if they didn’t.

Continue reading