The campaign for strong equality and anti-discrimination laws received a significant boost yesterday (24 November) with the launch of the Cutting Edge consortium, a coalition of faith groups, human rights campaigns, trades unions and other organisations. They are opposing calls for “religious opt-outs” from the Equality Bill currently going through Parliament.
Religious groups supporting Cutting Edge are taking a different stance from those that have argued that they should be allowed to discriminate in employment, for example on grounds of sexuality.
Christian groups in the coalition include the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM) and the religion and society thinktank Ekklesia. Other members include the Muslim Women's Network, Liberal Judaism, the British Humanist Association (BHA) and the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
The launch meeting at the House of Commons, chaired by Clare Short MP, saw enthusiastic support for equality legislation, along with lively discussion and debate about particular aspects of the current Equality Bill and the nature of discrimination. Speakers included the barrister Sarah Bourke and Maleiha Malik of the Muslim Women's Network.
Maria Exall of the TUC said that “It is vital that progressive faith and secular voices are heard loud and clear supporting the Equality Bill and equal rights for LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered] people."
Andrew Copson of the BHA said that his organisation was very pleased to be working alongside religious groups.
He said the division on the issue was not between religious and non-religious people, but between “people who believe in non-discrimination and equal treatment” and “people who don't”.
Representatives of Ekklesia and other religous groups welcomed his words, encouraging the secular organisations present to recognise that many religious people shared their strong commitment to equality.
However, several of those present expressed concerns that the Equality Bill would not go far enough, for example on issues of harassment outside employment or in the provisions for the rights of transgender people. Some expressed disappointment that intersex people are not mentioned in the Bill.
Members of the Accord coalition, which also includes Ekklesia, called for the Bill to tackle discrimination in selection and employment at faith schools, which are currently exempt from many of its provisions.
MPs will have the chance to consider amendments to the Equality Bill when it is debated in the Commons on Wednesday 2 December.
These includes amendments aimed at strengthening equality, such as by extending provisions to cover faith schools. There will also be amendments which seek to water down the Bill, for example by allowing religious organisations to discriminate on grounds of sexuality.