Marriage (Same Sex Couples)

Memorandum submitted by Adrian Smith (MB 37)

House of Commons Public Bill Committee: Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill

 Summary

If the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Bill is to become law, it must include very firm legal protections for the individual right of conscience. This is to protect the millions of people who support the current legal definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman. In particular, employees must be protected from being punished at work for holding to this view – which is what happened to me.

 1.      My name is Adrian Smith and I live in Bury. For almost 20 years I worked as a Housing Manager first at Bury Council and then at Trafford Housing Trust (THT) where I progressed to gold level within my role in recognition of the quality of my work. I have left THT and I am now involved in charitable work in Africa.

2.      I am making this submission because I am concerned to learn that the Marriage Bill does not make any provision to protect the conscientious objections of people who genuinely and reasonably disagree with the concept of same-sex marriage.

3.      I fear that, without clear legislative protections, people will find themselves in difficulty at work and in other public settings, simply for holding the view that marriage is between a man and a woman. This, of course, has been the view enshrined in law for a very long time and it would be quite wrong for people to be punished for holding this view. However, my own experience has taught me that there is a very real risk.

4.      I was demoted by Trafford Housing Trust, and had my salary cut by 40 per cent, all because I said on my personal Facebook page that gay weddings in churches would be "an equality too far". I posted a link to a BBC news story and added those four words by way of comment. The postings were made at home in my own time and as far as I was concerned I was simply posting a link to a news item for friends within church circles who I thought would be interested.

5.      I was using my own computer, doing it outside work time, on a page that was not visible to the general public. Yet my bosses at work still saw fit to punish me.

6.      A work colleague – who was also a Facebook friend - read the post. Someone in the Equality and Diversity department found out about it. A few days later I was called into a meeting where I was shown a copy of the post and asked what my motivation was for posting it.

7.      I was told that the issue was that the comments were in the public domain and there had potentially been a breach of THT’s policies and procedures. I asked what specific policy I had breached. I was left with the impression that they did not have any particular policy in mind but would look to find one that would fit the situation.

8.      Following the meeting I was suspended from work on full pay pending an investigation. They later said the suspension was for comments that could have breached THT’s Code of Conduct and Equal Opportunities Policy and have the potential to be seriously prejudicial to the good reputation of THT. The policy said conduct outside work hours and away from the premises of the Trust was covered. Reference was also made to retaining accreditation from an LGBT group which awarded THT a kite mark for the way it delivers services to LGBT people.

9.      I was repeatedly called ‘homophobic’ by those pushing for me to be disciplined at work. I tried reasoning with my bosses, but they dug their heels in. They said my Facebook post constituted ‘gross misconduct’ for which I should be dismissed. However, because of my loyal service they decided not to dismiss me but to demote me to a non-managerial position. That meant a 40% reduction in pay.

10.  I was left with no option but to go to court to clear my name. It took the better part of two years, which was a living nightmare for my family and me.

11.  In November the High Court ruled in my favour. But the Court did not have the power to order my reinstatement so I was left in a demoted job which carried a lower salary. I only received £98 damages as my claim was for breach of contract and not a claim for unfair dismissal. It was beyond my financial means to bring an unfair dismissal claim before an Employment Tribunal within three months from when I lost my job. Thankfully I found a charity that agreed to fund my High Court case. Without them I would not have been able to clear my name as the costs of my case exceeded £30,000.

12.  I have since left my job under a compromise agreement to focus on Christian charitable work. I shouldn't have been treated like an outcast, and my family shouldn't have had to suffer like they did.

13.  In my fight for justice I received support from many diverse individuals and groups including Peter Tatchell.  [1] [1] He obviously doesn't agree with my beliefs, but he does believe in freedom of expression.

14.  I believe there is an intolerance against people who have traditional beliefs like me. Sadly this intolerance is at its worst in the public sector. I'm worried that if marriage is redefined, there will be more cases like mine in the courts. In my case the judge ruled in my favour, but if the law of marriage is changed, maybe others won't be so lucky.

February 2013

 

 

[1] [1] http://www.petertatchell.net/free_speech/Adrian-Smith-Victory-for-free-speech-&-fair-play.htm

Prepared 27th February 2013