Gay rights laws draw religious protest
Christian and Muslim groups are to stage a torchlit protest outside
the House of Lords tonight against a proposed new gay rights law that
they say would force them to "actively condone and promote"
The demonstration outside the Palace of Westminster will coincide
with a Lords debate on the proposed introduction of new equal-treatment
rules in Northern Ireland, which are set to be replicated elsewhere in
the UK in the coming months.
The legislation, known as the Sexual Orientation Regulations, would
ban discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services on
the basis of sexuality in a similar way to the rules on gender and race
It would mean that hotels could be prosecuted for refusing to provide
rooms for gay couples, and parishes obliged to rent out halls for civil
partnership receptions. In a twist to the new rules, gay bars would not
be able to ban straight couples.
However, Christian and Muslim groups have protested against the
rules, which they say would force them to go against their religious
Tonight, the Lords was due to debate the Sexual Orientation
Regulations specifically for Northern Ireland. If they are passed, the
regulations will be added to the Government's Equality Act, which
completed its Parliamentary stages last year.
The demonstrators fear that if the Northern Ireland regulations are
allowed to go through as they are tonight, it will have very serious
ramifications for the rest of the country. This is because the
Government is planning to draft its England and Wales regulations by
April and, if the Northern Ireland regulations pass this evening,
sources in the Lords say it is almost certain that the England and Wales
regulations will be the same when they are drafted.
A total of 10,000 people have already signed a petition to the Queen
organised by Christian Concern for Our Nation, part of the Lawyers'
Christian Fellowship, which complains that the new law would have the
consequence of "discriminating heavily" against Christians of all
backgrounds and denominations.
In particular, Catholic adoption agencies have said they fear they
may be forced to allow gay couples to adopt.
Some black churches have also added their voices to the protest,
saying that pastors and churchgoers would go to jail rather than accept
rules that would mean they had to open their meeting halls to gay lobby
Muslim organisations have also put together a petition protesting
against the rules.
The gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, from the group OutRage!,
said today that the demonstration would be the result of
"scaremongering, lies and hypocrisy".
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement added that every one of the
objections raised by Christian groups and others had been answered,
claiming safeguards were already in place to protect religious groups'
freedom of speech, and accused the demonstrators of pursuing a "deeply
disturbing" agenda against gay men and women.
Mr Tatchell said: "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.