MANCHESTER, England — A British housing official at the Trafford Housing Trust in Bolton has been demoted for questioning on his Facebook page whether same-sex marriage ceremonies should be permitted in churches in the United Kingdom.
Adrian Smith, 54, commenting on a news story about allowing same-sex religious marriage ceremonies to be held in churches, and who is a member of a local evangelical church, had written only: “An equality too far.”
The next day, asked by a work colleague if he disapproved of the move, Smith elaborated further telling him:
“No, not really. I don’t understand why people who don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
The colleague then reported him to the housing trust’s equality and diversity head Helen Malone.
After a disciplinary hearing found Smith guilty of gross misconduct, he was demoted to the role of money support adviser and his salary dropped from £35,000 to £21,000.
His solicitor, Tom Ellis of Manchester-based law firm Aughton Ainsworth, told the Manchester Evening News:
“Most people recognize this was totally disproportionate and an excessive reaction by the trust. He made what were fairly mild comments after he was asked his opinion.
“It just seems undemocratic and incredible he can lose his job for comments like that. Even people who disagree with him would probably feel that way as well.”
Trafford Housing Trust says it stands by its decision.
David Barrow, commercial director of the trust, said it “has an equal opportunities policy and Mr Smith’s comments on Facebook, where he identified himself as a Trust employee, went against this policy.”
He added: “We expect employees at all levels to act respectfully. This applies in person and on social media.”
But London-based gay rights activist Peter Tatchell issued a statement saying Smith’s comments were “not a particularly homophobic viewpoint.”
“Adrian Smith’s opposition to churches being compelled to hold gay marriages is shared by much of the population, including many equality and human rights organizations,” Tatchell said.
“In a democratic society, he has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong. Freedom of speech should only be limited or penalised in extreme circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against others. Mr Smith’s words did not cross this threshold,” Tatchell cautioned.
Instead of taking disciplinary action, Tatchell said the Trust should have simply warned Smith about making remarks in forums where he is identified as their employee.