Victory goes to equality in House of Lords vote

By staff writers
March 22, 2007

Equalities campaigners, including those who support comprehensive equalities within the churches, were celebrating last night as the House of Lords backed the government and the Commons over the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations.

Conservative peer Baroness O'Cathain’s attempt to get the legislation thrown out was defeated by 168 votes to 122, a safe majority of 46.

The regulations, which come into force on 30 April, outlaw discrimination against gay or straight people by businesses and service providers.

The Catholic Church has threatened to shut its adoption agencies rather than comply with equality for gay couples – putting vulnerable and difficult-to-place children at risk.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor has complained that the new regulations have not been sufficiently examined, in spite of hours of debate and discussion.

He also claims, along with those in the Church of England’s general synod who urged their bishops to vote against SORS, that its teaching is being compromised.

But others, like the evangelical Faithworks movement, Christian peers like Lord Smith, lesbian and gay church groups and the Christian think-tank Ekklesia have disputed this idea.

In California, Catholic adoption workers have teamed up with other voluntary agencies to offer a full service, with the church handling some cases and civic groups others.

The Church in England, Wales and Scotland has been given 21 months to comply with the new rules. The Cardinal remains agnostic about prospects. The hope is that the extra time will allow expertise and knowledge to be passed onto the voluntary sector rather than being lost.

Baroness Andrews, for the government, said: "This has been a long journey to us recognizing the rights of people irrespective of sexual orientation. It is a historic step forward towards dignity, respect and fairness for all."

At prime minister's questions earlier, Tony Blair, a practicing Anglican with strong Catholic sympathies, said opponents were effectively backing discrimination.

Several hundred people had protested against SORS outside parliament, and conservative evangelical groups said they were ‘praying for a miracle’.

“They got one, but not as they presumed”, a gay Christian told Ekklesia last night. “Fear and prejudice did not win the day. I am grateful to God, and to those of faith and non-faith who got this through.”

The issue split the Conservative Party. I n the House of Commons on Monday 19 March, as David Cameron, the Tory leader, the measure. But in the Lords on a free vote, more than 80 Conservatives MPs voted against.

Referring to a Christian demonstration, Labour peer Lord Alli said: "These regulations are fair and balanced. The sight of children holding up homophobic placards outside the Lords seems a good argument for these regulations."

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