Deborah Orr: If this registrar had 'Christian views', why did she ever take on the job?

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The Independent Online

Lillian Ladele is an odd sort of Christian. The north London registrar has won what is being described as a "landmark legal battle" that exempts her from carrying out civil partnerships. Her conscience will not allow her to conduct such unions, she says, because "I hold the orthodox Christian view that marriage is the union of one man and one woman for life and this is the God-ordained place for sexual relations".

This can only lead one to wonder why on earth Ladele opted to become a registrar in the first place. After all, people who wish their unions to be God-ordained generally marry in a church. It is strange for a person who has such a strong belief that marriage is "God-ordained" to enter a profession which concerns itself with conducting legal rather than religious marriages. And that's leaving aside the problem whereby most "orthodox Christians" tend not to believe a woman has any place in consecrating what Ladele describes –erroneously in this case – as a God-ordained relationship at all.

Anyway, why did Ladele's religious beliefs not surface until civil partnerships became part of the mix? Had Ladele not already asked to be exempt from marrying people who had been married already, or had had children already, or had had sexual relations outside marriage already?

I'm amazed that Ladele's religious beliefs ever allowed her to carry out any marriages in racy old Islington. It is clear that Ladele's appeal to scripture logically prohibits her from ever marrying any people, of any gender, who are not virgins or who believe in divorce. Ladele's "orthodox Christian" views, I fear, are manipulated entirely to suit her own private agenda.

Isn't it suspect that Ladele applies her beliefs so strictly only when gay people are involved? Christ never made any recorded reference to homosexuality. He did suggest that marriage was the only appropriate setting for sexual intercourse. But he did concede that there were various reasons why a person may not choose to marry. That's it. Very tolerant.

This teaching leads many Christians to believe that people are quite entitled to enter into all kinds of relationships without upsetting Christ. This is exactly the liberal idea that threatens schism in the Anglican Church, and exactly the one that must have guided Ladele into believing it was fine to be a civil registrar, facilitating non-religious marriages. Plenty of Christians who consider themselves as close to God as Ladele believe it is absolutely fine to be gay, very splendid to be in a settled and loving relationship, and utterly great to wish to proclaim it publicly and secure for it a legal basis. Ladele has every right to agree with the conservatives. But the further right this tribunal has mistakenly conferred enshrines her contestable religious belief as above the law. It is clearly gay sex Ladele objects to, not all non-marital sex, so her appeal to religious scruple is vexatious.

I have no difficulty with tolerating people whose views are strange to me, even abhorrent, unless they are doing harm to others, or breaking the law. People can be as homophobic as they like, as long as they keep it to themselves. I don't think people do harm by refusing to conduct civil ceremonies, if they don't want to, as long as they accept that their private wish to defy the law of the land is one that they are personally responsible for. Ladele is at liberty never to conduct a civil ceremony as long as she lives. But that ought to stop her, as a matter of conscientious objection, from being a registrar at all.

Already there has been much irresponsible speculation about the implications of this silly and misguided ruling. It has been mentioned that Muslims might now claim the right in supermarkets to refuse to handle alcohol or pork. Only, surely, if they had good reason to be utterly surprised at the nature of their duties.

I do have some sympathy with Ladele. She had no way of knowing, when she became a registrar, that performing civil partnerships would become one of her duties. I dislike fundamentalism of any kind, and if I'd been Ladele's boss I might have quietly accommodated her stubborn views, rather than risk getting to this stage.

There is nothing wrong with discreet compromise in situations of swift social change. Islington council would not have been failing in its duty to provide services to the homosexuals of Islington if it had itself been tolerant enough itself to indulge Ladele's unfortunate position. But it's too late for fudge now. The last thing we need is for the idea to take root that ill-considered religious prejudices can trump the law. It is important that the council challenges, and wins, this tribunal's ridiculous ruling at appeal. This, in view of the glaring contradictions in Ladele's own behaviour, should not be a problem.

Sex and the deregulated city

In a heart-warming display of cross-cultural respect, tout le monde has rallied to let Michelle Palmer (especially) and Vince Acors (less forcefully) know that they have no one to blame but themselves. The pair were caught having drunken sex on a Dubai beach by a persistent policeman, and few have any sympathy for their predicament.

Palmer's employer, ITP Publishing, has quickly sacked its 26-year-old employee. I don't have much sympathy for the two Britons' behaviour either. But I do think that their "crime", for which they face up to six years in prison, pales into insignificance in the setting of Dubai, a city that thrives on its status as an international centre for criminal activity of every type imaginable.

Dubai is a mecca for money launderers, who process billions through the city each year. Arms smugglers, drugs smugglers, terrorist groups, people traffickers, the Russian mafia, the Indian mafia – you name it.

The police, who pride themselves on their zero tolerance to petty infringements of the law, admit openly that they do not see the investigation of organised crime as a priority. They concentrate instead on controlling street crime – and beach crime – in order that Dubai remains a risk-free place to do whatever business you might like to, including plenty of prostitution. Acors and Palmer's main crime was to indulge in entertainment that was free.

* Ingrid Betancourt no doubt prefers being trapped in the eye of a media storm to being trapped in the Colombian jungle by Farc guerrillas. Yet if ever a politician needed to spend some more time with her family, then surely it is this one. The poor woman, however, is clearly torn between her urgent and human need to start the daunting task of somehow defining what her new life might be, and her strong and humane desire to harness the attention she is receiving in order to focus attention on the many other people who remain captives in Colombia.

The difficulty can be seen in the "exclusive" interviews in the media. Asked what it is like to be free, Betancourt touchingly attests that there are no words to describe it. Asked what it was like to be captive, she reasonably offers that she is not ready to discuss it. There's "exclusive" and there's "not available at all". Betancourt's experiences, for the time being, should remain in the latter category.

* The nation is no doubt feeling a tingle of excitement at the prospect of John Prescott's forthcoming documentary on class. It's all going to be in there, apparently – the croquet, the Jags, the stalwart, plucky refusal to have any truck with Big Words, the hell of Dorneywood, the overpowering temptation of M&S ready-made trifles after a lifetime of deferred gratification in the form of Bird's mixes. Most insightful of all will be the minutely dissected ruminations on why a decent, normal, working-class guy with decent, normal working-class roots should start behaving just like any Mallen-streaked aristocrat or Southern plantation owner, when it comes to gaining sexual favours from the help.