A senior registrar from Bedford who was pushed out by employers for saying she would be unwilling to conduct same-sex marriages has been reinstated.
Margaret Jones, aged 54, had been a senior deputy registrar at the Bedford register office for several years.
Despite having a clean slate for performance, she said she had been asked by her employers in 2013 whether her Christian beliefs would prevent her from conducting same-sex weddings, in light of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act.
Then, on 28 March 2014, just one day before the first same-sex marriages were due to be performed in the UK, she had another meeting with management.
During this, she confirmed that, as a Christian, she believed marriage can only be between one man and one woman and that she would be unwilling to conduct same-sex weddings as she ‘would not be able to say the words and be sincere’.
Her employers told her to perform the marriages, or resign, and a few days later launched a formal investigation against her, accusing her of gross misconduct, a breach of her role and a failure to follow management instruction.
During an internal disciplinary process, Ms Jones said that while she could not perform same-sex weddings, she would be willing to register the marriages and deal with administrative tasks.
However, she was dismissed on the basis that her refusal to perform same-sex weddings breached equality laws and ‘brought the council into disrepute’.
However, she had not actually been booked to carry out a same-sex wedding, so had not actually refused to perform the ceremony. This meant she was being sacked for her belief, not her actions.
In August, her appeal against her dismissal, supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), was upheld unanimously by a panel of Central Bedfordshire Council Members.
The panel decided that the council had not fully investigated ways to accommodate her religious beliefs and that evidence had been found that, in other cases, ‘informal custom and practice arrangements had been developed in order to accommodate individual staff situations’.
In a letter reversing Margaret’s dismissal, the council informed Margaret she would be reinstated with no financial loss and that any reference to gross misconduct would be ‘expunged from all records’.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the CLC, said, ‘We hope that employers begin to demonstrate a greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian. The council’s decision is an encouragement to Christians to stand calmly but boldly in the public sphere’.