Church ‘missing the point’ of equality legislation

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Gay rights group Stonewall has responded to the Church of England’s assertion that proposed new laws on discrimination will mean that “religion and belief seemed to be treated as subordinate to other rights.”

The Church’s Archbishop’s Council, which formulates policy, made its views known in a response to the Discrimination Law Review.

The public consultation on the review ended on Tuesday.

A new Single Equality Bill will be introduced in the next Parliamentary session to standardise the existing piecemeal laws on ethnic, disability, gender, sexual orientation and age discrimination as well as discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

“We have responded to the consultation as have many other gay and lesbian organisations,” Alan Wardle, head of parliamentary and public affairs at Stonewall, told

“As always, the Church seems to be missing the point, just as they did over the Sexual Orientation Regulations. The Single Equality Act will provide equality for everyone, including those of religious belief.”

Faith groups objected strongly to the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which protect LGB people from discrimination when accessing good and services.

Despite their protests the regulations became law in Britain in April.

The Archbishop’s Council’s response to the Discrimination Law Review expressed concern that faith groups would be compelled to marry people who had undergone gender reassignment surgery.

The government proposes extending protection against discrimination when accessing goods and services to the group of trans people who have had a sex-change operation.

Churches will be allowed to reject trans people from certain jobs for doctrinal reasons and sporting organisations will also be allowed to reject trans people from competitions.

Other proposals will give women the right to “discreetly” breastfeed their children in public, with fines of up to £2,500 for businesses or organisations who tell them to stop.

Institutions such as golf clubs will be barred from giving women an inferior version of membership, but sports clubs and other recreational groups that are just male or female will remain.

Local authorities will be legally required to give equal treatment to all religious groups, and police forces will be allowed to fast-track the careers of ethnic minority officers.

It will become illegal to discriminate against older people, for example by refusing a store or credit card to someone over 65 on the basis of their age.

However, holiday companies like Club 18 – 30 and Saga, which caters for the over 50s, will be exempt from the new laws.

Landlords will be compelled to make communal areas in rented accommodation accessible for disabled tenants, though the tenants and not the landlord will pay for alterations.

Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR), said the new law would help untangle the “impenetrable thicket” of disrimination laws currently in place.

The commission comes into being next month and will inherit the responsibilities of the existing equality commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.