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.
The courts’ relationship with religious principles is rarely out of the spotlight, and recent decisions have provided more fuel for this debate.
Aidan O’Neill QC, writing on the UK Supreme Court Blog, provides an interesting discussion of last week’s Supreme Court decision in HJ (Iran) in the context of a series of controversial United States decisions on sexuality and religion.
We posted last week on the case of HJ (Iran), in which the Supreme Court ruled that policy of sending back gay refugees to their home countries where they feared persecution is unlawful as it breached their human rights. Rosalind English examined the case in the context of a European Court of Human Rights rejecting a complaint by a same-sex couple that Austria was in violation of the Convention for not granting them the right to marry.
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.
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.
HJ (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  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.
Baroness Hale of Richmond has spoken to the Salford Human Rights Conference on the development of human rights law, and has lamented the time spent on constitutional wrangling rather than applying the essence of the Act.
Lord Phillips, the head of the Supreme Court also spoke recently on the Human Rights Act, responded to accusations that it is hampering the fight against terrorism. He said that “respect for human rights is a key weapon in the ideological battle”. Lady Hale suggested that the tension between the Government and the courts arising from such cases is preventing judges from doing their job. She concluded:
AC v Berkshire West Primary Care Trust  EWHC 1162 (Admin) (25 May 2010) – Read Judgment
An NHS Trust acted rationally in refusing to provide breast enlargement surgery to a transsexual, the High Court has ruled, even though there was credible medical evidence that the surgery would have been beneficial. The case raises issues as to when treatment can truly be said to be “necessary” in light of increasingly tight purse strings, and whether NHS policy could be discriminatory towards transsexuals.
The Claimant, AC, had been diagnosed with gender identity disorder (GID). As part of its GID treatment program the PCT had been prepared to provide genital reassignment surgery, which AC had refused.
As part of her treatment, AC was given hormone therapy but was disappointed with her subsequent breast development. Her GP wrote in 2006 that AC had found that her lack of breasts made it “much more difficult for her to feel feminine. It tends to get her down although she does not have a history of significant depression… Whilst we can offer her what support we can with this, this is never clearly going to be as effective as a surgical solution.” Continue reading →
McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd  EWCA Civ B1 (29 April 2010) – Read judgment
Gary McFarlane, a Christian relationship counsellor, has lost his application to appeal his Employment Appeal Tribunal decision in the High Court. Mr McFarlane was sacked by a marriage guidance service after he said he would not promote gay sex. He claimed he had been discriminated against on religious grounds.
The case caused a furore as the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey submitted a witness statement stating that cases such of these should be heard by judges with special religious sensitivity. Lord Justice Laws in the High Court has now rubbished that suggestion. He said:
18. Lord Carey’s observations are misplaced. The judges have never, so far as I know, sought to equate the condemnation by some Christians of homosexuality on religious grounds with homophobia, or to regard that position as “disreputable”. Nor have they likened Christians to bigots. They administer the law in accordance with the judicial oath: without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.
19. It is possible that Lord Carey’s mistaken suggestions arise from a misunderstanding on his part as to the meaning attributed by the law to the idea of discrimination. In cases of indirect discrimination (such as are provided for by paragraph 3(1)(b) of the 2003 Regulations, which is centre stage in the present case) the law forbids discriminatory conduct not by reference to the actor’s motives, but by reference to the outcome of his or her acts or omissions. Acts or omissions may obviously have discriminatory effects – outcomes – as between one group or class of persons and another, whether their motivation is for good or ill; and in various contexts the law allows indirect discrimination where (in a carefully controlled legislative setting) it can be shown to have justifiable effects. Accordingly the proposition that if conduct is accepted as discriminatory it thereby falls to be condemned as disreputable or bigoted is a non sequitur. But it is the premise of Lord Carey’s position.
The Bill passed despite the unusual opposition from the Pope, who complained in February that it would run contrary to “natural law”. His comments were most likely directed at the effect of the new legislation on Catholic adoption agencies, making it more difficult for them to turn down gay couples. We previously posted on this topic in relation to the Catholic Care case, which resulted in a victory for a catholic adoption agency.
Making the law easier to understand and implement by simplifying 116 pieces of equality legislation into a single Act for individuals, public authorities and private organisations.
Giving people the right not to be treated less favourably by public authorities because of their age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, or transgender status; as well as their disability, gender, or race which were already covered.
Extending anti-age discrimination rules to include goods, facilities and services, thereby stopping people being unfairly refused insurance or medical treatments based on what age they are, for example.
The key sections of the Act will begin to come into force in October 2010 and will continue to do so until 2012.
Baroness Deech, the Chair of the Bar Standards Board, has given the second lecture in her series on family law at Gresham College. In this lecture she questions whether the current law of marriage is compatible with human rights law. In particular, homosexual couples cannot legally marry, and hetrosexual couples are disbarred from entering civil partnerships. She said:
“Since [the] acceptance and recognition [of gay rights] has grown, advanced by the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Equality Bill 2010. Gay couples may adopt children (Adoption and Children Act 2002); they have access to fertility services and full parentage of donor conceived children (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008). Same sex childless couples are deemed to be a “family” for the purpose of succeeding a deceased partner to a tenancy (Fitzpatrick v Sterling Housing Association  Ch.304). This trend culminated in the legislative establishment of civil partnerships in the Civil Partnership Act 2004, creating a union almost identical to, but not marriage.”
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