Government backtracks on gay rights law

// 15 October 2006

A law which would ban anyone providing goods and services from discriminating on the grounds of sexuality is in danger of being watered down because of pressure from faith groups, according to the Observer.

The proposed legislation would prevent, for example, hotel owners from refusing rooms to gay couples, adoption agencies from refusing to place children with gay couples and schools from refusing to enroll gay students.

But faith groups have called for an exemption – and the Catholic prime minister and Trade Secretary Ruth Kelly, who is now in charge of pushing the bill, are all too ready to listen.

Kelly has now delayed the introduction of the laws for consideration of what a spokesman said were ‘difficult issues’. Johnson is leading the opposition to watering down the laws. ‘His department has in the past taken the faith schools’ line but Johnson is saying they have got to be sensible about this,’ said a senior Whitehall source. ‘You can’ t have Satan worshippers going into the local church to have their annual meeting, but if there’s a publicly funded school and it wants to open its facilities to everyone else but not a local gay and lesbian group – that’s discrimination.’

Quite. Some Christian adoption agencies may shut down rather than obey the new rules if they become law, the story says. Not a very Christian attitude towards the children they serve, huh?

The dispute is now likely to go to a cross-departmental cabinet committee for resolution. A source close to Kelly insisted the delay did not mean she was refusing to implement the proposals.

That may be so, but this legislation should not be forced to wait for Kelly. This exactly the kind of situation which I had in mind when I said that Kelly should not be given this post back in May. This is, as far as I am aware, the first major gay rights issue she has had to deal with, and she is already putting at risk what has been Labour’s good record on equality issues.

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