Labour’s shadow faith minister quit her post today after advocating that registrars who object to same-sex marriage should be protected by a conscience clause.
Janet Daby spoke about the subject during a conversation with journalists organised by the Religion Media Centre. After being asked whether it was appropriate for registrars to be sacked if they objected to same-sex marriage on the grounds of their religious beliefs, Ms Daby said: “There needs to be something in place that protects people of faith being penalised for objecting to performing certain tasks because of their religious beliefs.
“There needs to be something in place that protects people of faith as well as those who think the other way. It is an issue of conscience. It is like people having a choice who for reasons of conscience cannot participate in conducting an abortion”.
But within hours of the Daily Telegraph reporting her remarks, Daby announced her resignation. In a Tweet, she said: “I sincerely apologise for my misjudged comments on Friday and have decided to resign as shadow faith minister.”
The behind-the-scenes annoyance at her comments in the Labour Party is likely to have been considerable, given the speed of her resignation and the timing of her remarks. Her mea culpa Tweet also mentioned: “On Saturday Labour celebrated 15 years of civil partnerships, and all the progress we’ve made since.”
A majority of Labour MPs then voted in favour of same-sex marriage when it was made legal in 2013 by David Cameron’s coalition government, with the first such marriages taking place in 2014. Since then it has been unlawful discrimination for registrars to refuse to perform same-sex weddings.
Its legality was opposed by some people because of their religious beliefs, as were same-sex civil unions. In 2008 registrar Lilian Ladele objected to having to conduct same-sex civil unions as part of her work as a registrar employed by Islington Council on the grounds that she believed them sinful and she was disciplined and threatened with dismissal.
Although the Central London Employment Tribunal later ruled this discrimination was unlawful. It was later overturned by appeal court judges who said: “The right to express a strong Christian faith must take second place to the rights of homosexuals under Labour’s equality laws.” At the time gay colleagues at Islington Council accused Ladele of being homophobic.
Then in 2014 a Bedford registrar was let go for refusing to perform same-sex weddings because of her Christian beliefs. She was later reintstated by Central Bedfordshire Council although the guidance on the law from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says: “The law is clear that when someone is providing a public service, they cannot, because of their religion or belief, discriminate unlawfully against customers or service users.”
Janet Daby’s suggestion of a conscience clause highlights her interest in the situation facing people of faith in an increasingly secular society which derives from her own personal faith.
Daby, 50, is the daughter of migrants from Jamaica and Guyana and was first elected as an MP in a 2018 by-election. She was appointed shadow minister for faiths, women and equalities in April 2020 by Keir Starmer.
In a previous interview with Premier Christian Radio, she said: “I talk to God all the time. God is my closest friend. I will always be having a conversation with him. I am talking to a greater being who has all the answers, who cares about the world and believes in us to do the best. My life is everything with God and he means everything to me.”
The last time a conscience clause was raised for those opposed to same-sex weddings was by UKIP in 2015 when it published a “manifesto” for Christians. The document was released via Christian Concern, a legal advice group that has fought what it claims are cases of discrimination against Christians.