Gay community urged to ensure faith support

PinkNews logo on pink background with rainbow corners.

The Green Party’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) group is calling on the gay community to respond to the Government’s Equality Bill consultation on whether to ban discrimination against LGBT people in the supply of goods and services such as hotels and charitable services.

They are worried that extreme religious groups might persuade the Government to exempt them from any obligations under the new law on grounds of religious faith.

There is reportedly a 50-50 split on responses received by the Women and Equality Unit and Department for Trade and Industry which is dealing with the bill, on whether to allow religious organisations to ‘opt out’ on the proposed goods and services laws.

According to a government civil servant from the Women and Equality Unit who spoke at a public meeting in Brighton on Wednesday 31 May, approximately 500 responses have been received on the consultation on the new regulations. Of these, around half have been in favour and half oppose any exemptions for religious groups. Although the deadline is officially today, 5 June, the civil servants said that responses that are “a few days late” would be included.

Nigel Tart, Green Party spokesman said: “Every extra response will count over the next three or four days and we are at a knife edge on responses. We strongly urge LGBT people to write or send an email to the Women and Equality Unit to let them know we oppose any religious opt-outs. It would be completely wrong to give legal sanction to discriminate against LGBT people in the supply of goods and services just because an organisation is faith-based. We need to explain that you can’t pick and choose sexual equality – either we have it or we don’t.”

Greens are also concerned that the Government should include voluntary work in the scope of the new services regulations. Unpaid voluntary work was not included in the 2003 Employment Regulations which, with the exception of religious organisations, prohibit discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation in employment. This means that an employer is no longer able to sack someone just for being lesbian or gay. Voluntary work is not an employment contract and is therefore not covered by these regulations.

Greens believe that LGBT people who are undertaking voluntary work, such as working for a religious charity without pay, should be included in the new goods and services regulations that the Government has pledged to introduce.

Nigel Tart said: “Volunteer workers are not covered by the employment protection regulations, so they must be included here. In addition to volunteers providing services to the voluntary sector, these organisations are effectively providing services to volunteers, for example training, work experience, community building. They need protection too. We hope the Government listens.”

The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Department of Trade and Industry is holding a consultation on the new legislation which ends today.

A spokeswoman previously told “Current government proposals (as part of the ‘Getting Equal’ consultation) are to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education, and in the provision of public functions as of October this year, under a power contained in Part 3 of the Equality Act 2006.

“We are specifically seeking views through the consultation paper on whether any special provision needs to be made to enable faith schools in both the maintained and the independent sectors to balance the new obligations that they will have under the new sexual orientation regulations with their need to operate in a way that is consistent with their school’s ethos;

“We are also seeking views on how teaching in schools should be covered by the proposed regulations. Requirements are already placed on maintained schools in relation to the subjects that are taught to children at different stages of their education. Guidance is already provided on what should be taught in these subjects and, to some extent, how that teaching should be delivered.

” This makes clear that teaching, particularly in subjects such as Personal, Social and Health Education, should meet the needs of all young people whatever their developing sexuality. The guidelines also allow schools to exercise appropriate flexibility to ensure that the subjects they are obliged to teach can be taught in a way that is relevant and appropriate to the school’s ethos and with which the individual teacher feels comfortable.

“The Discrimination Law Review currently underway is also considering the case for extending public sector duties as part of a single equality duty, including sexual orientation.”