Government consultation closes this week on proposals to protect people of all sexual orientations against discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, and services (including in education) and humanist campaigners have voiced their opposition to religious calls for exemptions to the proposed law.
While humanist organisations and organisations that lobby for gay rights have given their enthusiastic support for the proposed regulations, religious groups and individuals have been lining up to oppose the new protections. One such group, The Lawyers’ Christian Fellowshiphas stated that ‘there are times when Christians need to be free to discriminate against homosexuals in order to be consistent and clear (not just with our words, but also with our actions) in declaring that the Bible says homosexual practice is sinful.’
In their submission to the Government’s consultation, the British Humanist Association was vigorous in its defence of equal treatment, saying,
‘To declare a prohibition on discrimination but then to exempt some people from that prohibition on the grounds that they themselves find discrimination morally acceptable makes a mockery of the law. It would not be acceptable in the areas of race, disability, age or religion or belief, and is not acceptable here…Either we hold human rights to be universal or we do not.’
A particular focus of religious campaigners has been schools and education, with organisations such as the Association of Christian Teachers demanding exemptions from the law for faith schools, but the BHA submitted that, ‘To make any exemptions in this area would be to exacerbate the isolating and damaging effect of prejudice, homophobia and discrimination in schools and would represent a failure to protect some of our most vulnerable children…Regulations designed to eliminate discrimination against and harassment of children who are known to be particularly vulnerable should be unequivocal.’
Andrew Copson, responsible for education and public affairs at the BHA, said:
‘What these religious groups are saying is that they want to continue discriminating, even if a law has been passed that recognises such discrimination as wrong. But unfair treatment is unfair no matter what motivates it, and we hope that the Government will be unequivocal in the protection it offers to people of all sexual orientations.’
The British Humanist Association is the largest organisation in the UK working for an end to religious privilege and to discrimination based on religion or belief, and for a secular society.
The BHA’s work is firmly based in principles of human rights, equality and social cohesion, and the BHA’s executive director Hanne Stinson has been involved in the Equalities Review as a member of the reference group for that review and for the Discrimination Law Review. She also serves on the DTI steering group for the Commission for Equality and Human Rights.
You can read the BHA’s full submission on the sexual orientation regulations here