Primary school teachers ‘could face sack’ for refusing to promote gay marriage
Primary school teachers could face the sack for refusing to promote gay marriage once same-sex unions become law, a minister has signalled.
Liz Truss, an education minister, refused to rule out the possibility that teachers, even in faith schools, could face disciplinary action for objecting on grounds of conscience.
Miss Truss said simply that it was impossible to know what the impact of the legislation would be at this stage.
Her admission came in a letter to a fellow Conservative MP, David Burrowes, last month.
Mr Burrowes, a practising Christian, originally wrote to Maria Miller, the equalities minister, raising concerns about the impact on schools of the Coalition’s plans to change the marriage laws.
It followed the publication of a legal opinion by Aidan O’Neill QC, a barrister in the same London chambers as Cherie Blair, commissioned by the Coalition for Marriage, which campaigns against same-sex unions.
Mr O’Neill, an expert on human rights, was asked to advise on the impact redefining marriage to include same-sex couples could have on schools, churches, hospitals, foster carers and public buildings.
Among his conclusions was that schools could be within their statutory rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings.
Parents who object to gay marriage being taught to their children would also have no right to withdraw their child from lessons, he argued.
And, in theory, the fact that a school was a faith school would make no difference, he added.
One scenario he looked at was what would happen if a primary school asked a Christian teacher to use a book called King & King, a story of a prince who marries a man, and produce a play based on the tale.
Mr O’Neill concluded: “If the teacher refused to obey the otherwise lawful instructions of her employers then this would constitute grounds for her dismissal from employment.”
He said that the teacher would be unlikely to be able to use human rights law to challenge such a decision because the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg had previously been “notably unwilling” to allow employers to use religion to request changes to their conditions of employment.
Mr Burrowes wrote to ministers seeking reassurances that the situation would not arise.
Replying on behalf of the Government, Miss Truss said that parents currently have a right to withdraw their children from sex education classes and that schools must apply “sensitivity” in deciding what materials to use, taking into account pupils’ as well as their “religious and cultural background”.
She added that it is ultimately up to heads to determine what teachers should teach and that staff with concerns should try to reach a “mutual understanding on the way forward.”
However she underlined that teachers must act in an “un-discriminatory manner”.
But she said it was impossible to know how the balance might change further if same-sex marriage becomes law and what the implications might be.
“As you are aware, legislation on equal civil marriage has yet to be announced by the Home Office, following a consultation exercise earlier this year,” she wrote.
“I am, therefore, unable to advise on the specifics of any legislation and its future impacts at this time.”
It comes despite the Coalition publishing a detailed “impact assessment” on the introduction of same-sex marriage which even included details of how immigration forms might have to be changed to replaces references to husbands or wives with “more neutral” terminology.
Mr Burrowes said the letter confirmed that gay marriage would be taught in schools and offered no reassurances to teachers who object on grounds of conscience.
“The reality is that these questions that are raised which have not been fully answered mean that they have not been rebutted,” he said.
“The fact that they have not been rebutted when we are so far down the line – the consultation will be coming out within the next weeks and no doubt the DfE has been consulted – now does raise more questions than answers.
“There is a big and serious question that gay marriage will undermine the liberty of conscience, that’s a big question that will hang over the legislation.”