Academics criticise Kelly over gay equality delay

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly must resign if she continues to obstruct equal rights for gays and lesbians, says the University and College Union (UCU).

The union, which represents 110,000 lecturers and academic related staff, today added its voice to others criticising the delay of legislation which would make it illegal for organisations and businesses to deny services to gays and lesbians.

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment rights at UCU, said religious groups should not be exempt from the law, he said: “Everybody should have the same right to access services, regardless of their sexuality or the prejudices of some individuals. To exempt religious institutions from being obliged to obey a law on this would clearly defeat its object.

“The government must continue to legislate against discrimination, regardless of objections from the anti-gay rights lobby.”

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.

Mr Kline added, “It is believed by many that Ruth Kelly cannot separate her own personal beliefs from her duty as a minister to promote equal rights. If that is so then she is clearly unfit to steer equality legislation and should resign. It cannot be right for any minister’s personal views to prevent millions of lesbians and gays from having the same rights as everybody else. It’s time to stop stalling and get this legislation established.”

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.”