Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Government equality amendments defeated in the House of Lords

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly): rationalist.org.uk

Last night, the House of Lords voted against a government amendment to the Equality Bill which would have clarified the circumstances under which religious organisations are able to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation. The amendment would have ensured organisation can only discriminate when a job vacancy is either for a "minister of religion" or for another role that exists to "promote or represent the religion or to explain the doctrines of the religion". The turnout in the Lords was huge (the largest since 42-days terror detention was voted down in 2008) and the Church of England "Lords Spiritual" (seen here being whipped into shape by Rowan Williams) were actively involved in arguing for wide-ranging discrimination, with Archbishop of York John Sentamu telling the House:
"You may feel that many churches and other religious organisations are wrong on matters of sexual ethics. But, if religious freedom means anything it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine for themselves in accordance with their own convictions. Where are the examples of actual abuses that have caused difficulties? Where are the court rulings that have shown that the law is defective? If it ain't broke, why fix it?"
So, if religious freedom means anything, it means the right to discriminate against people. Glad we're clear on that one. Always nice to see Archbishops standing up in our legislature in 2010 and arguing that people should be treated differently because of their sexuality. All the more reason for campaigning to get the Bishops out of the Lords, surely? I look forward to attending the Labour Humanists' debate on the matter on Thursday.
The British Humanist Association, who have been busy lobbying on the issue, have expressed their disappointment, with Chief Executive Andrew Copson saying:
"Everyone else is required to treat gay people without discrimination. What the Christian churches fought for and won were special exemptions from that law so that they can treat lesbian and gay people unkindly, unfairly, and discriminate against them. The House of Lords has shamed itself by conspiring in this sort of immorality. We regret it and we hope that those fair-minded parliamentarians and those Christians who have campaigned against this exemption are given a fairer hearing in the future stages of the Bill and that this disgraceful injustice is reversed. Britain has always been a country with more freedom of thought and religion than most but it is a terrible thing to claim that this should mean that laws that apply to everyone else and which are designed to protect vulnerable people should contain within themselves special provisions so that religious people who don’t wish to, do not have to obey them. Our concern should be with the people denied jobs and a livelihood in their chosen profession by the discrimination against them, rather than with securing the right of those who discriminate against them to carry on doing so."
Update: Writing on Comment is Free, NSS president Terry Sanderson describes the debate as "the poorest and most ill-informed I have ever heard in the House of Lords", and urges a continued fight against religious discrimination.


dB said...

It is not just sexual orientation they are discrimintating against - it is also trans* people.