Christian counsellor sacked after refusing to work with gay couples denied appeal

A Christian counsellor who was sacked after he refused to work with gay couples has been refused permission to appeal.

Gary McFarlane was dismissed from his employer Relate Avon when he declined to fully commit to providing psycho-sexual counselling to same-sex couples on the basis that they conflicted with his religious beliefs.

Last year, an employment appeal tribunal ruled the counsellor was dismissed fairly from his employer, and rejected his claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion.

Today, the Court of Appeal dismissed McFarlane’s application for appeal, and also turned down his request for a specialist panel of five judges with a ‘proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues’ to be set up to hear his or other similar cases.

Rachel Dineley, employment partner and head of the diversity and discrimination unit at law firm Beachcroft, said: “This is a helpful judgment in getting to the heart of the issue.

“That is, the distinction to be drawn between how the law protects an individual’s right to hold and express a belief on the one hand, and the law’s protection of that belief’s substance or content.”

Audrey Williams, head of discrimination at law firm Eversheds, said the case exemplified the difficult and emotive question of how religious beliefs and freedoms which conflict with the interests of others, particularly where those interests also enjoy legal protections, should be dealt with.

“To many, it seems as if recent legal decisions favour the rights of homosexuals, for example, over the right to express the Christian faith, and this is what they want to challenge,” she said.

“A specialist panel would undoubtedly have a greater understanding of religious issues. However, this would surely have been the thin end of the wedge and would have been followed by many more requests if this application had been granted. It could have changed the approach for our court system and would have required the judges to be experts in their own right.”

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