01/17/2013 08:50 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Sometimes It's Just Not About the Gays

Religious Right groups are already claiming that a European Court of Human Rights ruling is an example of how Christians face "discrimination." Lillian Ladele went to the Court, according to the Christian Institute, because she "was pushed out of her job because of her stance against civil partnerships."

But was she pushed out a job if she was refusing to do the job? Are the Christian Institute and other such groups demanding special privileges denied to all other employees?

Ladele "became a registrar of births, deaths and marriages," for Islington, a London borough. When civil partnerships were legalized in 2005, Islington designated registrars as civil partnership registrars. Ladele refused to do work that was now part of her job.

The anti-gay Institute claimed that Ladele's loss in Court proves, "If the Government steamrollers ahead with the plans to redefine marriage, then hundreds of thousands of people could be thrown out of their jobs unless they agree to endorse gay marriage." But, Ladele's job included registering marriages and civil partnerships, while jobs of "hundreds of thousands of people" don't, and never will.

What about Gary McFarland, another litigant in the case? McFarland worked for a private company, not as a registrar of marriages, yet also lost his job. McFarland worked for Relate Avon Ltd, "a national private organization which provides sex therapy and relationship counselling service." He was hired to provide counselling to all clients of Relate, but decided he would not do so for gay couples, though he was hired, at least in part, to do that.

Like Ladele, he contended his Christian faith prevented him from doing this part of his job. For that, he was dismissed.

While the Right has presented this as a conflict between Christians and gays, it is not that at all. The conflict is between employees and employers.

A job is a contract. In exchange for remuneration, an employee agrees to work on behalf of an employer. If employees refuse to do the job, they defraud employers who hired them based on the promise they would do the work.

There are many religious beliefs, and employers should not be required to change job requirements to suit those conflicting and varied beliefs. If an employee cannot, in good conscience, do the work for which they have been hired, the ethical thing to do is resign, not demand that the employer change the nature of the job.

Checkout clerks may have religious scruples rearding alcohol, tobacco, R-rated films, sexy lingerie, pork or a host of other items. If they refuse to ring up those items, and require other employees to temporarily take their place, they transfer "costs" of their religious beliefs from themselves to others. Instead of being willing to "pay the price" of their beliefs, they expect third parties to subsidize them. These are basic economic principles that conservatives pretend to understand -- normally.

Religious rights, like all rights, end where the rights of others begin. The Right seems to think that religious rights now trump all other rights. If one's sincere beliefs require vegetarianism, then don't apply for work as a butcher. It's not hard to understand.

Ladele argued that she first took the job as registrar before civil partnerships were allowed, and therefore should be exempted. That doesn't change the nature of her relationship with her employer, anymore than a change in her religious beliefs would. If she was an atheist when she applied for the position, and later became a fundamentalist Christian, the change in beliefs doesn't alter her requirement to perform her duties. Employment often evolves to include new duties. If Ladele is correct, then any employee can simply refuse to do her job anytime duties change.

The Court noted that both McFarland and Ladele had previously seen their cases rejected "on the basis that their employers were not only entitled to require them to carry out their duties but also to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles..."

It is often useful to change the nature of the case by using other examples. Suppose another registrar was an atheist who refused to register Christian marriages? Would this be acceptable?

Suppose an employee told his employer that he would not work with Christian clients, or Jews or women.

Individuals may adopt religious values as they wish. What they may not do is require others to be unwilling participants in those values, and that includes employers. The employer-employee relationship is one where rights are contractual in nature. Employers who can no longer pay workers can't require them to continue performing their duties. Neither can employees, who can no longer perform their duties, expect employers to keep them on the payroll.

There was no conflict between gays and Christians, even if those obsessed with anti-gay rhetoric wish to pretend that was the case. This was nothing more than conflict between employees refusing to fulfil work duties, and employers unwilling to keep them on the payroll under those circumstances.

But, these attacks are revealing. Anti-Semites exhibit their bigotry by finding "the Jew" in every situation they discuss, no matter how tenuous the connection. It is part of the obsessive nature of bigotry. That the Christian Institute and their compatriots find these cases to involve "the gays" and Christians, and do not see it as between employees and employers, is evidence of how obsessed they are with their petty prejudices.