Catholic couple win first round in civil partnership row with police

A DEVOUT Catholic couple who object to their marital status being listed alongside civil partnerships have won the first round in an employment tribunal action against Scotland's largest police force.

Lucille and Frank McQuade, who have been married for 26 years, claim that Strathclyde Police is guilty of religious discrimination after altering its civilian employee records to change their status from "married" to "married/civil partnership".

Speaking after an earlier tribunal hearing, Mrs McQuade, 46, who until recently worked as a CID clerk with the force, said: "The concept of homosexuality is not compatible with our faith." Mrs McQuade, now with the Catholic Parliamentary Office and Fertility Care Scotland, which teaches natural family planning, added: "We find it offensive that people don't know if we are married or civil partners."

Mr McQuade, 49, a communications officer with the force, added that no slur was intended on the gay community.

The couple, from Motherwell, told the original tribunal hearing in Glasgow last October that the change to their "true legal and religious status" amounted to sex discrimination and religious discrimination.

The McQuades argued also that they had been treated less favourably than single colleagues who have not been affected by any change in status.

Strathclyde Joint Police referred to guidance on sexual orientation by Acas, which stated that "outing" an individual's sexual orientation against their wishes or without their clear permission was inappropriate and a breach of privacy.

They denied that the McQuades had suffered any detriment and urged the tribunal to throw out the case or, alternatively, to order the couple to each pay a 500 deposit as a condition of pursuing their claims.

However, the guidance further suggested avoiding making people identify themselves as either married or in a civil partnership as in most situations they were treated the same, so there was no need to identify them separately.

Jane Garvie, the employment judge, noted that the Acas advice was just "guidance", and she could not reach the view that the case had little reasonable prospect of success. The tribunal yesterday ruled the case should go ahead without the need for a deposit being paid.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Media Office, said: "When civil partnerships were introduced, politicians stressed they were not the same as marriage. It is absurd that a public body cannot list these separately." But Tony Grew, the editor of the Pink News, a campaigning newspaper for the gay community, said:

"Many people in the police, and the vast majority of people they serve, are proud of the fact that their gay and lesbian colleagues no longer have to hide in the shadows. It seems this couple are not among them.

"They are entitled to their view, but in 2008 it looks like the sad relic of a prejudice that has no place in modern Scotland."

The case will go ahead before an employment tribunal at a later date.

CONTROVERSIAL LEGISLATION

IN DECEMBER 2005 the Civil Partnership Act came into force in Scotland allowing same-sex couples to enter civil partnerships.

It gave gay and lesbian couples the same legal rights as married couples, ensuring equality on matters including pension provision and inheritance.

Most of the Scotland's political parties welcomed such weddings but the Catholic Church in Scotland voiced its opposition.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Scotland's most senior Roman Catholic, said at the time: "The Scottish people must be aware that we are indulging in an experiment which will always have huge social consequences.

"The Catholic Church teaches clearly that we, as individuals and a society, harm ourselves when we do not protect and promote the female-male lifelong relationship that we know as marriage."

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