"Freedom to differ is not limited to things that
do not matter much. That would be a mere
shadow of freedom. The test of its substance
is the right to differ as to things that
touch the heart of the existing order."
Robert H. Jackson - Former US Attorney General
After a few days of the internet cafe at work blocking facebook I got on this morning to see an invite to a group calling on registrars should perform their public duty on civil partnerships or resign. As it was started by a fellow Lib Dem I noticed a fair number of my fellow Lib Dems have signed up. However, and this may come as a shock to some I'll not be following suit.
You see the news that Lillian Ladelle won her tribunal causes a dilemma in just what freedoms we enshrine. I'm seeking to safeguard a fair, free and open society which considering the pluralism of opinions and views is a difficult one. Yes the legislation that brought in same-sex civil partnerships was an essential one, however we still have to respect the views of those who hold alternative views. When the Sunday trading legislation was first brought in, those established employees with religious objections to working on the Sabbath had the option to opt out; I remember this as I opted out at that time.
Lillian had been working for some time as a registrar before civil partnerships were introduced. Initially at that time all the Islington registrars were freelance and there was flexibility within the group to swap assignments so that if they wished they could avoid carrying out same-sex partnership ceremonies. That changed in December 2007 when the local authority took direct control of the set up. She perfectly able of doing her job and doing the same amount of work as her colleagues under the previous set up the fact that she was passing these on to colleagues who would perform the ceremony shows she wasn't discriminating just didn't feel she could be a part of it.
Under the previous system there was no indication that same-sex partnerships were lewss able to be conducted by the registrars in the region and that is the fundamental right that needs to be given to those seeking to enter into one, the same access and availability of service as everyone else. But the employee's rights to their own freedom of expression, thought and religion also need to be maintained and that is where the dichotomy arises.
Just as employment law doesn't allow for discrimination on race, religion, gender, ability or sexual orientation grounds in hiring, that discrimination should not also then led to task assignment providing a service can be maintained. Similarly when Lillian first took her job the conflict with her beliefs did not exsit. The problem has arisen that this is a problem only in some of the Hebredian Islands where on occasions all the registrars have held religious views that they feel do not allow them them to preform same-sex partnerships. In those situations alternative solutions need to be sought.
While gay couples are enjoying their new found freedom there has to be care not to quash the freedoms of others, they may be different or contrary but providing they do not harm, discriminate, incite hatred they have the right to be present as well.
We tread a fine line in the need to balance freedom.