Anglicans pin hopes on unelected bishops to block anti-discrimination measures

By staff writers
20 Mar 2007

Anglicans in England opposed to the Government's new Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs), which would prevent discrimination against gay and lesbian people, are urging the 26 unelected bishops who sit in the House of Lords to vote against the measures on Wednesday.

The draft Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which require businesses and services not to discriminate against homosexuals, was approved in the House of Commons last night by 310 to 100 votes, a majority of 210.

However a letter signed by forty-two lay members of the Church of England's General Synod has been sent to bishops urging them to turn up and vote against the SORs.

Just four bishops turned up to vote last week on the future of Britain's constitution.

Several hundred Christians are expected to turn up to protest outside Parliament on Wednesday when there will be a final debate in the House of Lords.

Those opposed to the SORs include some in the Catholic church who want Catholic adoption agencies to be able to reject applications from gay couples, although they are funded by the state.

The Church of England adoption agency the Children's Society however changed its policy to allow gay and lesbian couples to adopt, several years ago.

Many other Christians also support the new Regulations. Leader of the Evangelical Faithworks Movement, Rev Malcolm Duncan, said that Christian opposition was based on misunderstanding and double standards and in 'grave danger' of making the church sound homophobic.

In January when there was another vote in which five bishops turned out to vote, The Rt Rev Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester, voted in favour of the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

In their letter, the members of the General Synod say; “We have in practice taken for granted that the State is not the source of morality and legitimacy but a system that brokers, mediates and attempts to coordinate the moral resources of those specific communities, the merely local and the credal or issue-focused, which actually make up the national unit.

“This is a ‘secular’ system in the sense that it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body; but it is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a nonreligious or antireligious set of commitments or policies. Moving towards the latter would change our political culture more radically than we imagine.”

“Given the great significance of this vote, many people would understand that the responsibility that Bishops undertake as members of the House of Lords requires them on such occasions to vary their crowded timetable in order to attend the debate.

“Many Christians will be praying outside Parliament at the same time, giving up other activities that could rightly claim their attention.

The letter also refers to last week's House of Lords debate in which four bishops turned up to vote against a democratically elected House of Lords. It involved a humorous scene when the Lord Chancellor informed the House of Lords that the Archbishop of York had been delayed at a state banquet at Buckingham Palace and missed part of the debate on Tuesday.

The Lord Chancellor told peers in the House of Lords; "Although it looked as though the Church of England was rather depleted at the end of the debate, it was for unavoidable reasons — acts of God, one might say."

“We also note the spirited defence made last week of the role of the Bishops in the House of Lords by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Chelmsford" the letter continues.

"Important substance would be given to their words if all the Bishops in the Lords were to attend to vote.

Anthony Archer, author of the letter and a member of the Crown Nominations Committee said: "This is a rare opportunity for all bishops to unite around this subject. It is also an outstanding moment for them to make a clear statement about their role in the House of Lords in the context of the proposals for reform, which looks increasingly likely to lead to a diminishing of their ability to be the conscience of the nation in our democratic process."

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