Page last updated at 16:58 GMT, Thursday, 29 April 2010 17:58 UK

Christian sex therapist Gary McFarlane loses appeal bid

Gary McFarlane - library picture
Gary McFarlane claimed he was discriminated against as a Christian

A relationship counsellor's bid to challenge his sacking for refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples has been turned down by the High Court.

Gary McFarlane, 48, from Bristol, was sacked by Relate Avon in 2008. He claimed the service had refused to accommodate his Christian beliefs.

Lord Justice Laws said legislation for the protection of views held purely on religious grounds cannot be justified.

He said it was irrational and "also divisive, capricious and arbitrary".

'Strongly-held'

Mr McFarlane said after the hearing that the decision not to let him appeal against the ruling left him "disappointed and upset".

"I have the ability to provide counselling services to same-sex couples," he said.

"However, because of my Christian beliefs and principles, there should be allowances taken into account whereby individuals like me can actually avoid having to contradict their very strongly-held Christian principles."

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Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey had earlier called for judges with a "proven sensitivity and understanding of religious issues" to hear the case.

Lord Carey said recent decisions involving Christians by the courts had used "dangerous" reasoning and this could lead to civil unrest.

Lord Justice Laws said Lord Carey's views were "misplaced" and judges had never likened Christians to bigots, or sought to equate condemnation by some Christians of homosexuality with homophobia.

He said it was possible that Lord Carey's "mistaken suggestions" arose from a misunderstanding of the law on discrimination.

As to his concerns over a lack of sensitivity on the part of the judiciary, Lord Justice Laws said this appeared to be an argument that the courts ought to be more sympathetic to the substance of Christian beliefs and be ready to uphold and defend them.

'Respecting all clients'

Mr McFarlane started training with Relate in May 2003 and said he enjoyed good relationships with clients and colleagues.

He was suspended in October 2007 after meetings with his manager, in which he claimed he was asked to state his views regarding same-sex couples. He was later sacked.

Last November Mr McFarlane lost his appeal against unfair dismissal.

Relate chief executive Claire Tyler said: "This judgement validates, once again, Relate's commitment to providing all members of the public full access to our services.

"[We help] 150,000 clients each year and nothing can damage or undermine the principles of trust and respect that underpins our work."

Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, said the law must be clear that anti-discrimination laws exist to protect people, not beliefs.

Personal prejudice

"The right to follow a religious belief is a qualified right and it must not be used to legitimise discrimination against gay people."

Derek Munn, a director at gay pressure group Stonewall, said: "People delivering public services mustn't be able to pick and choose who they will serve on the basis of personal prejudice.

But Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "Mr McFarlane simply wanted his religious beliefs to be accommodated by his employer, which, in the specific facts of the case, was not unreasonable.

"It seems that a religious bar to office has been created, whereby a Christian who wishes to act on their Christian beliefs on marriage will no longer be able to work in a great number of environments."



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SEE ALSO
Atheist rules 'risk civil unrest'
15 Apr 10 |  Bristol
Christian loses sex therapy case
30 Nov 09 |  Bristol

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