Lords uphold anti-discrimination laws

A protester holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on June 3, 2013, as protesters gather in support of same-sex marriage

An attempt by an Irish peer to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations has failed.

The House of Lords voted 199 to 68 to retain the regulations, which protect lesbian, gay and bisexual people against discrimination when accessing goods and services.

The Lords vote was a defeat for Christian and Muslim protesters, a 1,000 of whom converged on Parliament Square yesterday evening while the debate was happening in the Lords.

The new anti-discrimination rules became law in Northern Ireland this month and are due to come into force in England and Wales in April.

Gay rights activists were delighted at the result.

Ben Summerkill, chief executive of Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk, “This is a wonderful start to the 40th anniversary year of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

“It has demonstrated that when we lobby in an entirely focused way, we can deliver a substantial majority.”

Last night’s protest was organised by an evangelical group, Christian Concern for Our Nation.

They were joined by Muslim activists, all protesting rules that would provide gay and lesbian people with protection already extended to religious groups.

DUP leader Ian Paisley addressed the crowd, asking them, “Are we really Christians and will we stand up for Jesus?

“We’re here to say that we’re on the Lord’s side.”

Peers were unimpressed with the arguments put forward by DUP peer, Lord Morrow, who echoed many of the misconceptions about the regulations stated by the protest organisers.

Christian and Muslim objectors had said that the SOR would force them to promote homosexuality in schools or hire out their premises to gay groups.

Dr Majid Katme, one of the leading Muslim protestors, had written to imams last week, claiming that, “[the new rules require] Muslims and Christian believers legally to accept and appoint homosexuals or anyone with any sexual deviation in our Muslim institutions and centres, mosques, schools, clubs, companies, hotels, business, shops etc.”

In fact the Sexual Orientation Regulations are designed to outlaw discrimination against people on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services.

Stonewall’s Ben Summerskill was pleased that the Lords had not accepted the misinterpretation of the regulations being propagated by some Christian and Muslim groups.

“This gives a clear message to some of these Christian fringe organisations that their exaggerations and fabrications were not persuasive,” he said.

Stonewall had lobbied peers since the debate on the regulations was secured by Lord Morrow last month.

Labour peers were joined by Liberal Democrats in defeating the motion to rescind the regulations in Northern Ireland, where they came into force on January 1st.

Some Tory peers voted against the regulations, among them Lord Tebbit, who has been a trenchant opponent of the ‘new’ Conservative party’s approach to social issues under David Cameron’s leadership.

He told peers that, “Black is about being. Sexual orientation is about being.

“The concerns which are being expressed this evening are primarily about sodomy rather than about sexual orientation – that is doing, not being.”

His hardline approach may not have helped the Christian cause. As Ben Summerskill commented, “the moment Lord Tebbit mentions sodomy, we get five more votes. The middle-of-the-road peers get very upset.”

Lord Chris Smith, the first openly gay MP and a former cabinet minister, told his fellow peers that, “It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass.

“And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity.”

The Christian objectors to the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland will now concentrate their energies on a judicial review of the regulations that pressure group the Christian Institute have secured. It will be heard in the High Court in Belfast in March.