Behind the news: the briefing that led to Janet Daby’s resignation

By Christopher Lamb

Labour’s shadow faith minister today resigned for what she has described as “misjudged” comments during a Religion Media Centre briefing about registrars who object to carrying out same-sex marriages.

Janet Daby made the remarks on Friday, when she was asked whether “a special arrangement for the believer” could be made in cases where officials have been sacked for refusing to carry out marriages of same-sex couples.

“This is highly complex and controversial,” she said. “I think there needs to be something in place that respects people’s conscience and views of faith, as well as protects people’s rights [so] that . . . they can be treated equally. I think that needs to happen.”

Ms Daby explained: “This is to do with a person’s own conscience, and it’s similar to a vote of conscience in parliament. My own view around this is that I’d like to have more information, and have conversations with those people. I think it’s similar to whether someone wishes to partake in a medical process of an abortion.”

After the introduction of civil partnership legislation in 2004, Lillian Ladele, a Christian registrar at Islington Council, objected to having to carry out the ceremonies on the grounds of her faith. After she was disciplined and threatened with dismissal she took her case to an employment tribunal which initially ruled that she had been discriminated against, although the decision was later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

In 2014, Margaret Jones, a Christian registrar in Bedford, was dismissed for refusing to conduct same-sex weddings although was later reinstated.

Nevertheless, legal guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission states that when someone is providing a service, an individual’s religious belief cannot lead them to discriminate against customers or “service users”.

“I sincerely apologise for my misjudged comments,” Ms Daby tweeted today after the RMC briefing. “I’m proud to support same-sex marriages. On Saturday, Labour celebrated 15 years of civil partnerships, and all the progress we’ve made since.”

Ms Daby was appointed shadow minister for faiths role in April and focused her efforts on speaking up for religious communities during the Covid-19 pandemic while trying to tackle antisemitism. Ms Daby described antisemitism within Labour as “horrendous” and had been seeking to rebuild relations between the party and the Jewish community.

She describes herself as a Christian, who attended Baptist, Church of England and evangelical churches, and has always “had a keen interest in faith groups coming together and working together”. Ms Daby has held various roles in the communities she has been part of including as a Sunday school leader and churchwarden.

On antisemitism she stressed the importance of not taking a “blanket approach” when it came to any religious or ethnic group as this led to generalisations and stigmatisation of people. “I say this as a black woman who has experienced racial discrimination,” she said.

During the RMC briefing, Ms Daby, the MP for Lewisham East, indicated support for a broader cross-section of faith leaders to sit in the House of Lords. There are now 26 Church of England bishops who are members of the upper house but other faith groups are not represented.

“We are a diverse multicultural, multifaith country and that needs to be respected in every aspect of our politics and in the House of Lords as well,” she said.

Click here for the interview in full.