Government slams “wild speculation” over gay laws

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Ministers involved in drawing up the incoming Sexual Orientation Regulations have called for calm after a series of outburst by religious groups and leaders regarding the new laws.

The legislation, due in the New Year for Northern Ireland, and April 2007 for the rest of the UK, guarantees equality in the provision of goods and services for all sexual orientations, prompting outrage from religious groups.

This week, the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, and the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, have both threatened that their churches will withdraw co-operation with the government in the provision of services such as night shelters and youth clubs

Tensions reached a peak yesterday after the Times newspaper featured an advert from a group of Christian leaders calling themselves Coherent and Cohesive Voice, urging followers to write to Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly and equality minister Meg Munn to oppose the new equality laws and seek religious exemptions.

The Department for Communities and Local Government along with the Women and Equality Unit are in charge of putting together the law.

Minister for Equality Meg Munn said it is a “complex” process.

She told “The Government is seeking to strike a balance between protecting the rights of religious groups and preventing discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people. In a diverse society, achieving a legal framework that balances fundamental rights is very complex.

“There are a number of misconceptions about what these regulations will cover and what is being considered. For example, no-one is proposing that schools will have to promote homosexuality or that a priest will have to bless same sex couples.

“But at the same time, the vast majority of the British public would surely agree that is wrong for a gay teenager to be refused emergency accommodation after being thrown out of their family home on the grounds that they had chosen to tell their parents about their sexuality or for lesbian and bisexual people to be denied access to essential healthcare.”

The advert claims that the legislation will “force” a bed and breakfast to supply a room to a transsexual and will make schools promote civil partnerships.

But Ms Munn criticised groups who perpetuated “wild speculation.”

“It is right that there should be a public debate on these complex and difficult issues, but that debate should be conducted in a calm and measured way rather than through inaccurate and wild speculation,” she said.

The law was initially due in October, but was delayed because of the amount of responses to the government consultation.

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