Lobbyists trying to derail recent UK equalities legislation because of their vociferous opposition to homosexuality do not represent the majority of Christians or people of faith, let alone most people in Britain, critics of protests against the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) have said.
The voices uniting in opposition to anti-gay prejudice over the past 48 hours have included Christians, humanists, Jews, trade unionists and human rights advocates. They say that the strength of feeling in favour of SORs has been under-reported in the media as a whole.
Speaking outside parliament yesterday, Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage noted that no mainstream religious groups had supported the rally backing a failed move to annul the legislation ‚Äì a cause attracting a meagre 68 votes in the House of Lords.
A similar point was made by a spokesperson for equalities organization Stonewall, who said it was a pity that Christians were not feeding the hungry and housing the homeless, rather than campaigning against fair treatment for lesbian and gay people.
The style and content of the anti-SORs campaign has also been questioned or criticised by the leader of the major evangelical service agency Faithworks, by Lord Chris Smith ‚Äì a member of the Christian Socialist Movement, and by the religious think-tank Ekklesia, among others.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews also issued a statement yesterday asserting its support for equality, and rebutting a story in a tabloid newspaper linking it with the protest organisers.
It declared: ‚ÄúThe Board of Deputies opposes discrimination on any grounds and recognises that the rights of those within our community and in wider society should not be infringed on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion conviction or for any other similar reason.‚Äù
The Rev Richard Kirker, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), said: ‚ÄúWe are particularly disturbed by the representations made by some other religious groups, which imply that their own views are the only valid interpretation of Christian belief. In fact these matters are under intense and lively debate in virtually all quarters of [Christianity] and other religions.‚Äù
He added: ‚ÄúPleas that ‚Äòreligious‚Äô individuals and bodies should be able to ‚Ä¶ treat lesbian and gay people (including Christian people) with hostility and contempt, are both extremely hurtful in themselves, and a shameful witness to the rest of society."
Said Kirker: ‚Äú[The protestors] make spurious claims about the infringement of their religious liberties, when the regulations give them alone the right to continue to discriminate against lesbian and gay people. But it is as if, having won the right to ‚Äòhunt us with dogs‚Äô on their own property, they now want to hunt us down wherever they choose.‚Äù
Civic groups have also said that the protestors are unrepresentative. Brendan Barber, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said: ‚ÄúNo one should be denied a room in a hotel or the right to adopt simply because of their sexual orientation. But this is what some religious leaders believe should happen and they are pressurising the Government to continue to allow lesbians and gay men to be treated as second-class citizens.‚Äù
Meanwhile the British Humanist Association (BHA), which opposes a privileged position for religion but works cooperatively with religious groups on issues of common interest, called for those seeking to derail the new measures to be firmly opposed by ‚Äúall people of good will‚Äù.
Andrew Copson, who is responsible for education and public affairs at the BHA, attacked the incoherence of the anti-SOR position: ‚ÄòTo 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.‚Äù
Noting the support expressed for anti-discrimination measures expressed by evangelical leader Malcolm Duncan, the Board of Deputies of British Jews and Ekklesia, Mr Copson also commented: ‚ÄúSociety at large, including religious people as well as humanists, increasingly recognises discrimination against people on account of their sexuality as deeply unethical.‚Äù
He concluded: ‚ÄúThese last minute attempts by a few to prevent the conversion of this recognition into solid statutory protection must be firmly opposed.‚Äù
The move to annul the legislation was defeated by 3 to 1 in the House of Lords on 9 January. But the battle is now being taken to the High Court in March.
The TUC has produced a background briefing on the goods and services regulations. 'No more hiding places for prejudice' is available at: http://www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-12827-f0.cfm