By Revd. Robert Ellis
A HIDING place for prejudice Tuesday evening's torch lit demonstration by “Christians” outside the House of Lords makes for embarrassing reading. Protestors were objecting to new rules which would outlaw businesses from discriminating against homosexuals in the provision of goods and services on grounds of religious belief. Fortunately common sense ruled the day and the attempt to annul the Northern Ireland legislation was rejected by a majority of 3 to 1. Calls to annul the regulations which have applied in Northern Ireland since 1st January and are due to be implemented across the UK by April was defeated by 199 votes to 68.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations have been criticised by some religious groups who say people will have to act contrary to their beliefs. It is interesting that although hundreds of Christians did indeed demonstrate outside Parliament, no mainstream religious group supported the protest.

Critics say the new rules will mean that hotels cannot refuse to book rooms for gay couples and religious groups would be obliged to rent out halls for “gay wedding” receptions. They argue that a Christian, Jewish or Muslim printer could be forced to print a flyer for a gay night club and a teacher would break the law if they were disparaging about homosexual civil partnerships. If that is not blatant homophobia then I don't know what is! In the vote common sense prevailed and the religious right were thwarted in their scaremongering attempt to legitimise their continued discrimination against lesbian and gay people. In the last few weeks the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham has sought exemption from the requirement under the new legislation for church schools to have specific homophobic bullying policy documents in place – I just cannot see where he was coming from. And in the Lords, Lord Ferrers has argued that Christian hospitals and hospices should not be obliged to treat lesbian and gay patients. This is the real unchristian agenda that is being pursued by some in the name of religious conscience. The law must prevent anyone claiming that their religious convictions give them the right to treat a section of society as of lower worth. Homophobia can only be defeated if it is consistently and specifically challenged. Nothing less will work. One might think that having almost any religious belief requires one to deny equality to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. The truth, once again, is otherwise. Tuesday night's cavorting does not represent majority Christian views but it does discredit them.

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