Government defends gay equality delay

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Demands for Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly to quit because of a delay in the new Sexual Orientation Regulations have been dismissed.

The Liberal Democrat’s Women and Equality spokesperson Lorely Burt has been leading calls for the minister to step down after reports that the new Equality Act may be amended to allay fears of Christian groups, her demands were echoed by the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association.

The Observer reported last weekend that protests from Christian groups seeking a ‘conscience clause’ in the law particularly regarding faith schools and adoption agencies have led to a delay.

Ms Burt accused Ms Kelly of not being committed to the job, she told “Ruth Kelly has been put in an impossible position, she has missed 12 votes on equality issues since the government came to power, she has clearly not got her heart in it.

“She should stand down and give the job to someone else.”

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association backed her concerns, secretary George Broadhead said: “We fear that Ms Kelly is going to grant large-scale opt-outs for religious groups from these new regulations. The pressure for these opt-outs has come from – among others – the Catholic Church which has been agitating more and more against LGBT rights. LGBT people are getting a raw deal from this woman who should never have been given this sensitive post in the first place considering her membership of Opus Dei.”

However, the Department for Communities and Local Government which is in charge of implementation of the bill along with the Women and Equality Unit, say the delay is due to the large number of responses to the consultation a spokesperson said: “We do not recognise this story. It is nonsense to claim we are blocking regulations. We are absolutely committed to bringing forward proposals that provide effective protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“The delay is purely a result of the huge response to the consultation with over 3000 responses received. This is a complex area so it is only right that we take the time to consider them fully and carefully to make sure our proposals are workable and provide effective protection from discrimination.”

Junior Women and Equality Minister Meg Munn, whose remit involves representing the gay community, reassured that the government would be keeping its promises on the guidelines, she said the reports of exemptions are unfounded, “We were on a tight timescale, the consultation closed in June and we had a much higher number of responses than we expected.

“We have kept in touch with all interested parties on this issue.”

Gay charity Stonewall were one of the main lobby groups to get Sexual Orientation Regulations included on the Equality Bill, director of parliamentary and public affairs Alan Wardle, said they will be working hard to ensure there aren’t too many exemptions.

He told “We know the Catholic Church has in particular been lobbying for exemptions, we are lobbying hard behind the scene to ensure these exemptions do not happen, we want them as robust as possible.”

Ms Kelly has repeatedly refused to give a clear answer on her views of homosexuality, she dodged the issue when confronted recently on BBC Radio5 Livein reaction to an investigation by which found she had never voted for gay rights and is a member of an anti gay Christian group.

The presenter, Nicky Campbell asked her three times if she viewed homosexual acts as sin, a belief held by the Opus Dei group which she is a member of, Ms Kelly replied, “I don’t think its right for politicians to start making moral judgments about people, it’s the last thing I want to do.

“The questions is what are my political views and as a politician I think everyone should be free of discrimination.

“Is it possible to be a Catholic and hold a portfolio in government, the answer is emphatically yes. I am responsible for holding to the collective cabinet view on these matters but I firmly believe in equality and that everyone should be free of discrimination and I will fight to the end to make sure that’s the case.”

On 22nd June 1998, Ruth Kelly, 38, was absent from the Crime and Disorder Bill to reduce the age of consent, as she was on the 1st March 1999 and the 10th February when the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill sought to achieve the same goal (the first having been rejected by the Lords).

On the 24th October 2001, she was absent from the voting on the Relationships (Civil Registration) motion that was the catalyst for introducing the Civil Partnerships bill in Parliament.

On the 29th October 2001, she was absent from the third reading of the Adoption and Children Bill (Programme), to allow gay couples to adopt, as she was on further votes on the same subject on 16th May 2002, 20th May 2002 and the 4th November 2002. On the 10th March 2003, she was absent from the vote to repeal section 28 which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality as a valid lifestyle.

On the 12th October 2004, she was absent from the vote on the Civil Partnerships Bill, as she was on the 9th November 2004.

The mother of four defended her gay rights voting record saying, “Everybody is entitled to express their views in free votes on matters of conscience and I’ve always made clear that as a member of parliament I’ve cast my vote according to conscience but I’m also a member of the government its my duty to see through equality and I’m passionate to see there is no discrimination.”