In an historic, landmark decision the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that an individual’s religious beliefs do not trump the rights of an LGBT person and may not be used to discriminate against them. The Court, in Strasbourg, France, examined four cases brought by Christians from the UK, two of which related to their refusal to provide professional services to same-sex couples on the grounds it violated their religious beliefs.
“In the first case, Lillian Ladele was a civil registrar in London. She was dismissed because she refused officiating at civil partnership ceremonies for same-sex couples after it became legal in 2005. She claimed she was discriminated because of her faith,” the European Parliament’s
Intergroup on LGBT Rights stated in a blog post:
The Court ruled there had been no discrimination, and that British courts—who upheld her dismissal—had struck the right balance between her right to freedom of religion, and same-sex couples’ right not to be discriminated.
In the second case, Gary McFarlane was a counsellor providing psycho-sexual therapy to couples. He was dismissed for refusing to work with same-sex couples, arguing this was incompatible with his beliefs. The Court ruled unanimously that there had been no violation of his right to freedom of belief.
Commenting this landmark ruling, Sophie in ‘t Veld MEP, Vice-President of the European Parliament’s LGBT Intergroup, said: “With this ruling, the court has established that freedom of religion is an individual right. It is emphatically not a collective right to discriminate against LGBT people, women, or people of another faith or life stance.”
“Religious freedom is no ground for exemption from the law. The court showed conclusively that the principle of equality and equal treatment cannot be circumvented with a simple reference to religion.”
This is the type of scenario the Catholic Church and other anti-gay organizations and hate groups will use, and already are trumpeting in their warnings to their followers: if same-sex marriage becomes legal we won’t be able to discriminate against LGBT people.
In fact, European law and US law are different, and the First Amendment protects — some might say overly protects — religious institutions from violating their faith. In many states, GOP legislatures are creating laws that extend past religious institutions and to individuals, enshrining this type of discrimination in their laws, unfairly making discrimination legal.
Hopefully, the ACLU and other civil rights and LGBT right organizations will see this ruling as a model for which to strive as they battle enshrined legal anti-gay discrimination.
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