Anti-Discrimination Law Threatened By Religious Right

Fundamentalists demand the right to discriminate.

Torch-lit rally to defend the right to discriminate.


London – 9 January 2007

Religious leaders are accused of “scaremongering, lies and hypocrisy” over their campaign against the new Sexual Orientation Regulations, which will “protect lesbian and gay people against discrimination in the same way that the law already prohibits discrimination against women, black people, the disabled and people of faith.”

The accusation comes from gay human rights group OutRage!, ahead of the House of Lords debate on the new regulations tonight, Tuesday 9 January.

The planned legal protection for lesbians, gay and bisexual people is being fiercely resisted by the sex-obsessed religious right – mostly by Christian fundamentalists, but also by some Judaist and Muslim extremists.

Fringe religious zealots from all three faiths are planning a large torch-lit protest at 5.30pm this evening, Tuesday, outside parliament, to coincide with the House of Lords debate on the regulations, as they apply in northern Ireland. The motion in the Lords is sponsored by northern Irish peer, Lord Morrow, a leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and a close friend of Rev Ian Paisley.

Tuesday’s protest is supported by fringe religious militants, with the backing of Rev Ian Paisley and members of the neo-Nazi British National Party. It is not supported by the Anglican or Catholic Churches, nor by the Muslim Council of Britain or the Board of Deputies of British Jews. They want nothing to do with this campaign of religious homophobia.

Peter Tatchell of OutRage! said:

“Religious homophobes are demanding the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. They use theology as a justification for bigotry and are spinning a sensationalist, malicious campaign of disinformation to stir up opposition to the regulations.

“If they win exemptions from the new law, church schools will be able to expel gay pupils, faith-based hospices and nursing homes will be allowed to refuse gay patients, and religious charities like night-shelters will be free to turn away gay homeless people.

“The new regulations give to gay people the same protections that already apply to people of faith and to the black community.

“Religious extremists campaigned for these rights for themselves. When they won them, they never moaned about political correctness.

“The Christian fundamentalists who want these exemptions are demanding the right to discriminate against gay people, but they are not campaigning for the right to discriminate against adulterers, unwed mothers, thieves, murderers or rapists. They have a highly selective and overtly homophobic interpretation of Biblical morality.

“If there are going to be laws against discrimination they should apply equally to everyone. It is wrong to give legal protection against some forms of discrimination but not against others.

“Last year’s Equality Act gave full legal protection against discrimination to people of faith.

“Some religious leaders are now demanding that the protection they have secured for themselves should be denied to lesbians and gays. It is hypocrisy and double standards. They want the law to give them privileged protection and for gay people to be treated as second class citizens.

“If anyone was demanding the legal right to discriminate against Christians, these zealots would be outraged. Yet they want the right to discriminate against gays. They are two-faced homophobes.

“According to their morally perverse logic, the right to discriminate against gay people is a human right; whereas every human rights convention says that discrimination is a violation of human rights,” said Mr Tatchell.

There follows a transcript from Hansard, where Lord Lester QC exposed the false claims being made by religious opponents of the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

Sexual Orientations Regulations (Northern Ireland)

House of Lords debate – 13 December 2006

Column WA198

Equality: Sexual Orientation

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 would require all schools actively to promote homosexual civil partnerships to children from primary school age to the same degree that they teach the importance of marriage. [HL447]

Lord Rooker: No. The regulations are not concerned with what is taught in schools. That is rightly a matter for the Department of Education, Northern Ireland.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 would require a printing shop run by a Christian to print fliers promoting gay sex.[HL448]

Lord Rooker: No. It would be entirely within the spirit of the regulations for a printing shop run by a Christian to refuse to print fliers promoting gay sex, so long as that printer also refused to print fliers promoting heterosexual sex outside the realm of marriage.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 would require a family-run bed and breakfast to let out a double room to a transsexual couple, even if the family consider it to be in the best interests of their children to refuse to allow such a situation in their own home.[HL449]

Lord Rooker: No.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 would make it illegal for a heterosexual police officer, fire fighter or member of the Armed Forces to refuse to join a Gay Pride event promoting the homosexual way of life.[HL450]

Lord Rooker: No.

13 Dec 2006 : Column WA199

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have received representations from Coherent and Cohesive Voice, a network of Christian leaders about the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 (SI 2006/439); and, if so, when; how many representations have been received; and in what form.[HL451]

Lord Rooker: We have received no representations from this group.

Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006

Briefing from the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM)


1. LGCM has around 4,000 members and supporters and can count on the support of many distinguished theologians and academics. It represents one of several bodies within the Churches which believe (see its Statement of Conviction) that “human sexuality in all its richness is a gift of God, gladly to be accepted, enjoyed and honoured as a way of both expressing and growing in love, in accordance with the life and teaching of Jesus Christ”; and that “it is entirely compatible with the Christian faith not only to love another person of the same sex, but also to express that love fully in a personal sexual relationship”. Our members and supporters are of differing orientations, but all subscribe to this conviction.

2. The Northern Ireland Regulations are a vital step towards protecting the private lives of many gay and lesbian people in the Province, and establishing their equality within society. Too often they now suffer prejudice and homophobia, “justified” by what others see as religious dogma in this area. The Regulations foreshadow legislation designed to attack similar social problems in the rest of the United Kingdom and therefore it is vital that they be resoundingly endorsed and the Parliamentary challenges to them rejected.

3. Despite the clamour from some Christian circles, we believe that the Regulations will not damage the Gospel and its preaching, but will instead create a public environment of non-judgmental inclusion and reflection, where Christ’s call can be heard among those too long condemned by the “unco’ guid”. This, we maintain, was at the heart of our Lord’s own ministry, life and sacrifice.

Criticisms and their response

4. Several religious groupings have made inaccurate – even distressing – claims about the intention and effect of the laws. In doing so they have ignored the rights and protections being given to other groups, especially on grounds of religion or belief, and the limits upon discrimination in those areas. These rights will be complemented, not overridden, by the new laws.

5. For instance it has been claimed that “Christian businesses”, including B and Bs, should receive exemptions on grounds of conscience. But such exemptions are not allowed in the laws on religious discrimination. If B and B owners, or “Christian garages”, cannot discriminate against Satanists, Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses, why should they be allowed to do so on grounds of (apparent or actual) sexual orientation?

6. Secondly, it has been claimed that churches will be put at risk of legal pursuit if they express their condemnation of same-sex activity as “morally wrong”. But Regulation 16 gives a wide ‘doctrinal exemption’ for churches and other religious organisations to discriminate in membership, “activities by the organisation, or on its behalf or under its auspices”, as well as over the use of their premises. [The only exception is for primarily commercial activities.] Churches will not therefore be obliged to bless civil partnerships, nor be subject to legal action for preaching a hell-fire doctrine. However, this exemption will allow them to ban the children of same-sex families from all church activities, and to refuse any recognition to even a surviving civil partner at a funeral or memorial service.

7. Thirdly, it has been claimed that “faith schools” will not be able to inculcate their own (anti-homosexual) “ethos”, and will have to “promote” homosexual behaviour as equal to (Christian) marriage. But there will be no bar to school authorities deciding the content of their religious education, or shaping the syllabus on personal/sexual education, subject to the continued right of parents to withdraw their children. However, it will be necessary, and right, to explain that the law regards civil partnerships, for example, as legally parallel to marriage, and why, and the general obligation on all education authorities to work against discrimination [Reg. 11] will govern this area.

If schools were not bound, they could penalise already vulnerable youngsters not just by rejection or expulsion but by discrimination such as refusing to allow them to take part in sports etc. The huge problem of homophobic bullying would in effect be expressly legitimised.

8. Last, it is claimed that religious charities would be forced to act against their principles or disband. But such charities will be able to go on discriminating in pursuit of their charitable instruments [Reg. 26]. This is parallel to the similar provision in the law banning religious discrimination. Charities using public money to deliver health or other social services will rightly be bound by the general rule in that use. One lobbying group has claimed that old people’s homes run by religious charities should be able to deny accommodation to an elderly same-sex couple (even civil partners). This assertion has only to be stated to demonstrate its outrageous lack of all Christian charity.

6 January 2007

Revd. Richard Kirker
Chief Executive
Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement [LGCM]
Tel/fax: 0207 739 1249.