Religion and the rights of the LGBTQA+ community have had some high-profile clashes. An employment tribunal has recently considered whether a doctor’s religious beliefs ‘trump’ the right of someone who is transgender to be addressed by their chosen pronoun (he, she, they). Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights allows people the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. However, this right is limited if necessary, to protect the rights and freedoms of others.
In Mackareth v DWP, the employee was a Christian and a doctor. He believed that God creates people as men or women and opposed transgenderism. He believed that it would be irresponsible for a doctor to accommodate or encourage transgenderism. He was recruited by the DWP to be a Health and Disabilities Assessor. When he refused to agree to the DWP’s rules regarding respect for transgender service users’ desired pronouns, he was dismissed. He brought claims for discrimination based on his Christian religion and beliefs.
The employment tribunal said his Christianity was protected by the Equality Act 2010. However, his beliefs in relation to transgenderism were not protected because they were incompatible with human dignity and conflicted with the fundamental rights of transgender people. The tribunal also said that refusing to address someone by their preferred pronouns would be discriminatory under the Equality Act 2010. Anyone who refused to do this would have been treated in the same way by the employer, regardless of their beliefs.
The doctor has said he will appeal the decision. The employment judge in this case accepted that the employee did not want to offend people, though he knew that his views would have that effect. This case shows the difficulties that can arise in balancing the rights of different employees. A robust equal opportunities policy is a good starting point for employers.