The British Humanist Association (BHA) has condemned votes in the House of Lords last night, January 25, which removed the requirement for discrimination against gay people by religious organisations to be “proportionate.” The government’s definition of the roles that would be affected was also voted down, after strong lobbying by religious organisations including Church of England bishops within the House of Lords.
Andrew Copson, the BHA’s new chief executive, commented, “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.”
Responding specifically to the argument of the Archbishop of York that the ability to discriminate against lesbian and gay people was a matter of “religious freedom”, Copson continued: “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.”
Naomi Phillips, BHA Head of Public Affairs, added, “The BHA has been working with supportive parliamentarians on many issues around the Equality Bill, which gives excessive privileges to religious groups to discriminate against not only gay and lesbian people but against the non-religious and those of other religions.”
The Lords votes mean that British law may now be in conflict with European legislation, meaning that the most probable effect of the amendments will be expensive and time-consuming litigation to untangle the mess the amendments have created.