Uncivil conduct

Lillian LadeleLillian Ladele, a Nigerian-born British
registrar, has a conscience which does not permit her to officiate at the
registration of “civil partnerships” for same-sex couples. Her employer, the Islington
Borough in North London, says that she can
keep her conscience, but not her £31,000 job. Now Ms Ladele has taken her
employers to court for discriminating against her religious beliefs.

Islington is Britain’s third most popular
borough for civil partnerships and more than 600 gay couples have had
ceremonies there since the new form of relationship was legalised in December
2005. But Ladele holds the orthodox Christian view that “marriage is the union
of one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of others and that this is
the God-ordained place for sexual relations.” This constitutes, according to
her employers, “discriminating against the homosexual community.” Ms Ladele
insists that she has never actually discriminated against anyone, as she has
been swapping shifts with her colleagues to avoid tying the knot for same-sex

So basically Lillian Ladele is being threatened
with punishment for the thought crime of regarding same-sex marriage as sinful.
In fact the punishment began when she voiced misgivings about the new
arrangements in August 2004 with her boss, Helen Mendez-Childs. Ms
Mendez-Childs ridiculed her and told her that her views were like denying
marriage to a black couple. Later on she was denied opportunities to preside over
lucrative weddings staged at special premises. She says that her colleagues
began to act in a “different, hostile way towards me.” Finally, the borough
launched an investigation last year into whether she was guilty of “gross

Writing from Nigeria, I find it amazing that
objecting to same-sex marriage constitutes gross misconduct and same-sex
marriage doesn’t. It is astonishing that the country which for centuries has
regarded itself as the beacon of human freedom should have sunk so low as to punish
a woman for following her conscience. And not about a trivial matter, either,
but about the nature of the most fundamental of human relationships. I would
hazard a guess that 90 percent of the world would agree with Ms Ladele. She
does not represent an unhinged minority.

No, it’s probably closer to 98 percent. In
fact, the lunacy of gay marriage threatens to split the Anglican Church.
Nigerian’s Jasper Akionla, Primate of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and other
African Bishops have stated time and again that it goes against the Gospel,
which paradoxically came to us through European missionaries. Akionla is not a
lone voice in this regard. The former Nigerian government of Olusegun Obasanjo
insisted that it goes against our value system as Africans.

I sometimes wonder if Mother England’s
insistence on democratic freedoms is not sheer hypocrisy. On the one hand, we
hear her politicians pontificating about Robert Mugabe’s tyranny and abuse of
democratic process in Zimbabwe.
Yet when a woman asserts her natural right to behave in accordance with a
rational conscience, she is bullied, ostracised and threatened with the loss of
her job. Ladele’s case shows that “democracy” can also become a monster. Why
should your livelihood be threatened because you hold contrary views? Or is
freedom of religion dependent on a majority opinion?

What I found excruciatingly offensive was
the suggestion that Lillian Ladele’s views were analogous to racism. In fact, I
suspect that a subtle new 21st Century racism underlies the harshness with
which she is being treated. Even though she represents a traditional moral
view, even though it violates her religious views, even though 98 percent of
the world agrees, she is not being taken seriously. I suspect that Islington
Borough’s argument ultimately is that opposition to same-sex marriage is a
primitive way of thinking fit for uncultured people. It is tantamount to

I applaud my sister, Ladele, because no
sane Yoruba will acquiescence in such absurdity. What will she tell her relatives?
That she has been officiating at gay weddings? Tufiakwa, God forbid! “To most of us mere mortals,” Olukayode
Thomas of one of Nigeria’s largest newspapers, The Guardian, writes, “a job that pays about N7 million a year
plus other fringe benefits, a dream car, mortgage on a nice
house in a good neighbourhood and other goodies of life in a society that works
like five fingers, is the ideal job. Many who place material things above their
souls will give their arms and legs to keep it.” Well done, Lillian, for daring
to swim against the tide!   

Nwachukwu Egbunike is a book editor in
Ibadan, Nigeria.


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