Lib Dem Tim Farron forgets he voted against equality law and calls for end to state Church

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PinkNews Exclusive
Lib Dem leadership candidate Tim Farron appeared to have forgotten he voted against a law to protect gay people from discrimination in an interview with PinkNews. He also called for the Church of England to be disestablished.

Mr Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, is one of two candidates to succeed Nick Clegg as Lib Dem leader, going up against former Health Minister Norman Lamb.

In an interview with PinkNews, he was asked whether it is acceptable for a Christian baker to refuse to make a gay themed cake.

Mr Farron responded: “No, I think that’s about goods and services.”

PinkNews journalists pointed out that Mr Farron voted against the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations in 2007 – the first law to prevent such discrimination based on sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services.

The law was applied yesterday in Belfast in a case brought against a Christian owned bakers, Ashers.

Mr Farron seemed confused when informed he voted against the law, responding: “I don’t think I did.”

The journalists conducting the PinkNews interview clarified: “On the 2007 law, you did. It’s where that protection comes from. You cited your ‘extreme liberal point of view’ at the time.”

Mr Farron responded: “Well, I’ve changed my position since then.

“My take on stuff like the cake issue, which was not live at that point, and the B&B issue, which had become live – it is un-Christian to turn people away from your establishment.

“You should not, if you offer services, be in the situation where you are discriminating.”

He recalled: “We had an amendment that I think was defeated, which tried to deal with some of the issues about protections. My recollection is that amendment was not accepted – I could not therefore support the [Sexual Orientation] regulations.”

He continued: “The issue about the Equality Act stuff – it’s about who has got the right to silence certain people… Tolerance is not about putting up with people you agree with. You don’t tolerate those people – it’s about co-existing with people you really don’t agree with.

“The bottom line is in a free society we need to protect individuals’ right to say what they wish, so long as it doesn’t anybody’s freedom.

“There was a lot in it. The issue more generally is that we’d made some clarifications about conscience, which was not about preaching hatred but respecting individual doctrines.”

Mr Farron also defended his voting record on equal marriage – having voted against the programme motion of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in 2013, and abstained on the third reading of the bill.

He cited concern over the ‘spousal veto’ clause, which requires trans people to gain their spouse’s permission before gaining legal gender recognition.

Mr Farron said: “It was important there was time to discuss trans issues and other very important issues.

“I voted around the equal marriage bill in ways that I thought were basically liberal.

“What is regrettable is that people will draw their own conclusions [based on the voting record], and assume that because you didn’t vote for it, you don’t support equal marriage.”

When asked why he voted alongside a number of right-wing MPs and against proponents of equality on the programme motion, he said: “I can’t police who comes through the lobby.”

Elsewhere in the interview, Mr Farron called for the Church of England to be disestablished as the national Church when asked about discrimination against gay clergy who want to marry.

He said: “First of all, you allow religious groups to practice their lifestyles within the creed that they settled on.

“The fundamental thing I say to the Archbishop of Canterbury is that the Church of England should be disestablished.

“That’s the simple answer to all this. I think the Church of England is compromised by being part of the furniture of the state.

“Although I’m a Christian myself, I do not believe I have any right to impose my faith on anybody else.

“I think what’s happened to the Welsh church since it was disestablished years ago has been healthy for the Church and healthy for the nation of Wales. That is the fundamental thing, and if you do that all those other things fall away.

“From a Liberal point of view definitely, but also from a Christian point of view – I always argue to Anglicans that you’re trapped by being part of the state.

“I think it damages Christianity to have an established church, and it certainly it’s also illiberal to have a state church anyway.”

The full interview is available here.