The government has been forced by the European Commission to withdraw its religious exemptions to sexual orientation equality legislation after a complaint by the National Secular Society:
The ruling follows a complaint from the National Secular Society, which argued that the opt-outs went further than was permitted under the directive and had created “illegal discrimination against homosexuals”.
The commission agreed. A “reasoned opinion” by its lawyers informs the government that its “exceptions to the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation for religious employers are broader than that permitted by the directive”.
The highly unusual move means that the government now has no choice but to redraft anti-discrimination laws, which is likely to prompt a furore among church groups.
In anticipation of a possible backlash from the commission, the government has already inserted new clauses into its equality bill. But even if the bill is jettisoned, future governments will be bound by the commission’s ruling.
Under the new proposals being drafted by the government, religious organisations will be able to refuse to employ homosexuals only if their job involves actively promoting or practising a religion. A blanket refusal to employ any homosexuals would no longer be possible.
Too right. It’s already quite mad that religious equality legislation has been passed, equating belief with inherent qualities like age, gender and sexual orientation. But to give an opt out to religion from the same equality legislation that affects everyone else is just appeasement – Peter Tatchell is right later in the article. That appeasement is fuelling the demands of all religious zealots in this country, in the belief that when push comes to shove they’ll be able to get away with not treating everyone equally based on who they are. The religious elements which take issue with this will simply have to grow up. The Christian charity, Care said:
“If evangelical churches cannot be sure that they can employ practising evangelicals with respect to sexual ethics, how will they be able to continue?”
They’ll have to join with the rest of the 21st century, in not discriminating against gay people, or they’ll face prosecution. It’s about time.