Equality Act comes into force

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A range of new equality laws came into force today as the Equality Act was implemented.

The change consolidates nine separate pieces of legislation into a single act, giving new anti-discrimination protections to a variety of people with “protected characteristics”.

Some of the new provisions apply specifically to trans people. These include widening the definition of trans, meaning that undergoing gender reassignment surgery will not be a requirement for protection under the law.

Another provision for trans people is that private clubs will not longer be able to discriminate against them on the grounds of their trans status.

Current laws already ban sexual orientation discrimination in providing goods, facilities or services or premises.

Some gay rights campaigners, including Peter Tatchell, complained during the consultation process that sexual orientation was not included in protection from harassment in schools and goods and services.

Faith and belief were also left out of this provision but the Labour government said that there was no need to include these characteristics in protections outside the workplace because there was no evidence of harassment taking place which would not fall within the protection from direct discrimination.

Last year, Labour peer Lord Waheed Alli tried to add an amendment to the bill to allow churches the option of carrying out civil partnerships for gay couples. The change was approved by the House of Lords and is being considered by ministers.

In July, Lord Alli said his amendment was a “huge step” but said that all couples must now be given the choice between civil and religious marriage, with faiths given the option to hold gay weddings.

The government is also still considering allowing people to make dual discrimination claims. This would mean that a lesbian could make a claim for discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

One of the most controversial aspects of the new act is equal pay. Businesses have argued that the legislation will put heavy burdens on them at a time of financial difficulty.

The Labour government planned to ensure that businesses must reveal how much they pay men compared with women but this has been withdrawn under the coalition, prompting complaints from women’s groups.

However, men and women will be able to compare their pay as secrecy clauses over wage packets will be outlawed.

Mothers will be guaranteed the right to breastfeed in public, while employers will be banned from asking about applicants’ health before a job offer is made.

A new category of “discrimination by association”, will allow carers of disabled children or elderly parents to claim they suffered at work as a result of their responsibilities at home.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said: “Everyone is protected by the new law.

“It covers age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex (meaning gender) and sexual orientation.

“Under the act people are not allowed to discriminate, harass or victimise another person because they belong to a group that the Act protects, they are thought to belong to one of those groups or are associated with someone who does.”