A relationship counsellor, Gary McFarlane, 48, in Bristol was sacked in 2008 for refusing to provide sex therapy to a gay couple. He took action against his former employer, Relate Avon, arguing that it had failed to accommodate his Christian beliefs. He lost, appealed and his appeal has just been turned down by the High Court.
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".
This decision is at odds, logically at least, with the protection currently given to conscientious objection in medicine. Doctors are allowed to refuse abortion services and pharmacists sometimes refuse to supply emergency contraception on religious grounds. I have argued that these practises are immoral (see blog and articles), yet they continue to occur. Pregnant women are denied available services to plan their family because of the religious beliefs of the health practitioner. This kind of denial of service is similar to denying couples sex therapy who need it – both are legal, beneficial, desirable services.
What we might conclude from this case is that if the NHS sacked doctors who conscientiously object to provide abortion services, as Relate Avon sacked Mr McFarlane, those doctors would not have legal appeal that their religious views had been insufficiently recognised.
Or are doctors special?