Government Stands Up For Equality, Forcing Religious to Back Down

The National Secular Society has welcomed publication today of the Sexual Orientation Regulations in a form that does not permit any new religious opt outs.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, said: “We are relieved that the Government has had the courage to stand up to the enormous pressure that has been put on it by religious interests. The Sexual Orientation Regulations are there to protect a very vulnerable minority from discrimination. The people who most wanted to be exempted from this legislation are the very people who would want to discriminate, so it is right that the Government has not given the religious fundamentalists the exemptions they demanded.”

Mr Porteous Wood said that the recent controversy over the Catholic adoption agencies was only a small part of the pressure that religious groups have applied to the Government.

“It is good news because Ruth Kelly has made clear in her statement that there will be no scope for religious groups to discriminate if they are given welfare services to run – which is the Government’s plan. Faith-based welfare was a potential disaster for gay people, who could have been denied services by groups that didn’t approve of them. That loophole has now been closed. But there is now the question of whether faith groups can be trusted with welfare services – both the Catholic Church and the Church of England threatened to withdraw vital services if they did not get their way politically. This is not a responsible way to behave when you have vulnerable people in your care. The Government should now think very carefully before handing out social services to religious organisations – even supposedly ‘respectable’ ones.”

Despite raising the stakes, the churches have not prevailed upon the Government to allow Catholic adoption agencies to continue to receive public funds while continuing to discriminate. We hope that, in the interests of opening their children to a wider number of prospective parents, the agency will consider changing its stance rather than closing. To allow single gay adopters but not ones in partnerships does not strike most people as being either consistent or in the children’s best interests.”