Religious groups fail to block British gay rights laws

Troy Espera | January 12, 2007

LONDON — Efforts to block British laws banning discrimination over providing goods and services to gays and lesbians failed despite a protest by hundreds of people outside Parliament.

According to the UK Guardian, the large crowd of mainly Christian demonstrators packed into a tiny square opposite the House of Lords in a rally against the Sexual Orientation Regulations.

The new laws are designed to prevent businesses discriminating against gays in the provision of goods and services.

But the protesters who gathered on Tuesday night, reports the Guardian, said the laws would stop religious people from making decisions based on their conscience or faith.

"Most of the people here are standing for freedom of conscience in the sense of 'if you believe something is wrong the law shouldn't make you do it,'" one protester, who asked to not to be named, told Reuters.

Christian, Muslim and Jewish groups have protested that the laws will force them to "actively condone and promote" gay sex.

Gay rights campaigners told Reuters that the proposals would simply extend existing anti-discrimination laws to homosexuals.

"It would not be acceptable in the areas of race, disability, age or religion or belief, and is not acceptable here. Either we hold human rights to be universal or we do not," said Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association, to Reuters.

The demonstration was timed to coincide with a debate in the Lords over whether the laws should be scrapped in Northern Ireland, where they had already been introduced.

Following a vote, the move to annul the legislation was rejected by 199 to 68, a government majority of 131, at the end of an impassioned two-hour debate, reports the Guardian.

Under the new laws, hotels could be prosecuted for refusing rooms to gay couples and parishes obliged to rent out halls for gay wedding receptions. Equally, gay bars would not be able to ban straight couples.

Human rights experts say the legislation would bring British law closer to that of other nations.

"It would be a major setback for the government if it failed to bring in these regulations," Robert Wintemute, professor of human rights at King's College, London told Reuters.

Britain introduced civil partnerships for gay couples in December 2005, giving them the same rights as heterosexuals. – Issued by Gay Link Content

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