Sexual Orientation Regulations (N.I.): Commons Should Vote For Equality and Human Rights, Not Religious Bigotry

As MPs prepare to debate the Sexual Orientation Regulations tomorrow (Wednesday), the National Secular Society urges them to ignore the inflammatory and dishonest religious campaigns that caused such controversy last week when the House of Lords debated the issue.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006 will outlaw discrimination in the provision of goods, accommodation and services, including education.

Keith Porteous Wood, Executive Director of the NSS, said: “MPs should follow peers in approving these Regulations which aim to eliminate discrimination against homosexuals. Religious groups claim they oppose discrimination against homosexuals, but this is not borne out by the massive and heavily-funded religious opposition to the Regulations. This included full page advertisements in a broadsheet newspaper and Parliamentarians’ in-house magazine. Despite opponents pulling all the stops out, however, the Lords approved the Regulations by 199 votes to 68. We are convinced that the vociferous opposition by religious organisations has further isolated them from the general public, and indeed has appalled many Christians, causing yet further strife in their churches.

“It is quite wrong to claim that opposition to the Regulations is limited to fundamentalist organisations. During the Lords debate on 9 January not one peer in any representative or leadership position in any religious organisation spoke in support of the Regulations.

“Lord Eames, who has just stepped down from being the Anglican Primate of all Ireland, spoke out strenuously against them and mentioned in his speech practically all the denominations in that most religious part of the UK. The only speaker from the Bishop’s Bench spoke out against, as did the very prominent Roman Catholic Lady O’Cathain, frontperson for the Christian Institute.

“We have not seen any supportive statements from major churches. Indeed we could understand the Government feeling blackmailed by the threats against the Regulations by both the (Catholic) Archbishop of Birmingham and the (Anglican) bishop of Rochester. They have threatened to withdraw services to the poor or youth if they do not get the Regulations amended.

“The religious campaign has been inflammatory and inaccurate to the point of negligence, to put it at its most charitable. The full-page advertisement in a broadsheet made four claims about the Regulations, all of which have been dismissed as inaccurate by the Minister in a parliamentary answer. Newspapers have reported more than once that the Regulations emanate from the EU and that they will force churches to bless gay partnerships, but we have seen no correction from the churches.

“Opponents such as former Lord Chancellor and Free Presbyterian Lord Mackay of Clashfern claim the Regulations will “require those offering bed and breakfast for example to “promote or further … homosexual practice”. No one is required to offer such accommodation, but Christians offering a commercial service should be no more free to discriminate against homosexuals than they are to refuse Jewish guests."