Thanks to the new Equality Bill, discrimination is in the spotlight more than ever. It is perhaps ironic that with the introduction of a Bill whose main aim is to "harmonise" our discrimination laws, the potential for clashes between different strands of anti-discrimination protection remains a live issue.
This is not a new problem. When the new regulations outlawing discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and religion/belief were introduced simultaneously in 2003 many commentators expressed concern about the potential for conflict. Some considered that religion/belief discrimination might impose a requirement to tolerate the intolerant, but would this be at the cost of other strands of anti-discrimination laws? Far from it, recent case law would suggest.
In McClintock v DCA, a JP resigned because his request to be relieved of his duty to place children with same-sex couples was refused. He was found by the EAT not to have been discriminated against on grounds of his religion/belief.
And, in McFarlane v Relate Avon Limited a Christian relationship counselor, dismissed for refusing to provide psycho-sexual therapy to same-sex couples, was found not to have been subjected to direct or indirect discrimination or unfairly dismissed.
In the key case of London Borough of Islington v Ladele, a Christian marriage registrar unsuccessfully claimed that she had been subjected to religious discrimination when she was disciplined for refusing to participate in civil partnership registration ceremonies. Ladele's claim was successful in the ET, which felt that the council "placed a greater value on the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community than it placed on the rights of Ms Ladele". But a subsequent EAT ruling found for the council.
Ladele was a significant decision in the battle for primacy of competing "equalities". The EAT rejected the notion that an employer should seek to balance the wishes of different groups or should be