UK court favors man demoted for Facebook 'gay marriage' criticism

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The Royal Courts of Justice or the British high court. Credit: Anthony Majanlahti via (CC BY 2.0).

Adrian Smith, a British Christian man who was demoted from his position for a Facebook comment critical of “gay marriage” in churches, has won a legal complaint against his employers.

“Something has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain, where an honest man like me can be punished for making perfectly polite remarks about the importance of marriage,” Smith said in a Nov. 16 statement after the hearing at London’s High Court.

“I have won today. But what will tomorrow bring?” he asked.

He voiced fear that a redefinition of marriage would create more cases like his and would mean such cases might not win in court.

Smith, a 55-year-old father of two, lost his managerial position at Manchester’s Trafford Housing Trust and took a 40 percent pay cut after he said in a February 2011 Facebook post that same-sex weddings held in churches were “an equality too far.”

He defended his remarks to a critical co-worker on Facebook, saying that the Bible teaches that marriage is for men and women. He said same-sex civil marriages are “up to the state” but he objected to the state imposing its rules “on places of faith and conscience.”

The comments were not made on work time and were not visible to the public, the BBC reports.

Smith’s employer said he broke its code of conduct for expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers.

The London High Court decision ruled in his favor and awarded him the difference between his original salary and the salary after his demotion, in addition to less than $160 in legal damages.

The judge said Smith was rebuked for “doing nothing wrong” and the trust’s disciplinary procedure “wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct.” The judge had “real disquiet” about the legal limits on the financial award to Smith.

The trust’s initial internal disciplinary investigation said Smith should be fired over his comment, but instead he was demoted because of his “long record of loyal service,” Business Week reports.

The court hearing comes as the U.K. government under Conservative Party Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing to recognize same-sex unions as legal marriages.

Smith asked whether the prime minister wants “to create a society where people like me, people who believe in traditional marriage, are treated as outcasts.”

Proponents of traditional marriage voiced support for Smith.

“Adrian has won today in the court. We are delighted for him,” Colin Hart, Campaign Director of the Coalition for Marriage, said Nov. 16. “But, if marriage is redefined in law there will be many more cases like his. And – given that the law would have changed – I’m not at all convinced they would have a happy outcome.”

Matthew Gardiner, the housing trust’s chief executive, said his company fully accepts the court decision and he made a “full and sincere apology” to smith.

He said the trust believed it was taking appropriate action at the time. He said the case “highlighted the challenges that businesses face with the increased use of social media.”

Gardiner said the trust had offered a settlement with Smith that was 10 times his claimed amount but he rejected the offer, the British newspaper The Daily Mail says.

Smith said he did not pursue the complaint for the money but because “there is an important principle at stake.”

Hart said the push to redefine marriage “sends a signal that people who believe in traditional marriage are fair game.”

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