Naturally local councils need to maintain good manners, common sense, respectfulness and a sense of balance when it comes to managing their workforces with diverse backgrounds. Sometimes there will be conflicting pressures – for instance those wishing to be open in expressing their religious faith and those wishing to be open about their sexual orientation.
In coping with this sensitively it seems to me the last thing managers need are Diversity Officers and Diversity Training Managers.
But at a Lambeth Council Diversity Training seminar came an outbreak of reason, a practical tip on exercising a bit give and take. A registrar mentioned as an example of good practice how a Christian colleague didn't want to undertake civil partnerships. So discreetly the shifts were swapped with a colleague who was positive about them. I should have thought such an arrangements was better all round. Not just for the registrar who was no obliged to undertake a task they had an objection to. But also for the gay couples who would have someone officiating who not merely carried out their professional duty but would do so with a smile, with joy and enthusiasm.
However as a result of the arrangement being identified it has now been banished.
Cllr Brian Palmer, a Lib Dem councillor, wrote a letter to the Labour council leader Cllr Steve Reed, complaining that registrars were "apparently circumventing Lambeth’s publicly stated equalities standards and the law by refusing to conduct civil partnerships." The "avoidance of duty" was "wholly unacceptable as well as illegal."
‘He will know that such actions will be grossly offensive to many members of the borough’s large LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community including myself.
‘What steps is he taking to ensure that all members of the community using Lambeth Registrar Services are treated with respect and equally under the law?’
Cllr Reed replied:
"This council does not tolerate bigotry for any reason."
He added that he had asked the chief executive to ensure all members of staff were aware of their "contractual obligation to provide services equally to all residents who are entitled to use them and to ensure
all managers are making this happen."
Nobody in Lambeth was prevented from having a civil partnership. So what kind of victory for gay rights have Cllrs Palmer and Reed delivered? The right to have a civil partnership with someone officiating who deeply resents doing so? Rather than knowing that the registrar officiating is sincerely joining in the celebration?