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U.K. mulls gay
rights protections

U.K. mulls gay
rights protections

There's much rattling of rosary beads and secular sabers within the British cabinet as Prime Minister Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly, minister for women and equality, dawdle over new gay rights legislation. Eyebrows were raised in May when Kelly was appointed, as she is a devout Catholic and a member of the Opus Dei sect. Now it seems the chickens are coming home to pray: Kelly has delayed the introduction of the laws for consideration of what a spokesman said were "difficult issues."

Education secretary Alan Johnson has no such qualms and was so angry about Kelly's reticence that he wrote to her three weeks ago, telling her the new rights should not be tampered with, reported the London Sunday Observer. The unholy fray has sprung from the plans contained in the Sexual Orientation (Provision of Goods and Services) Regulations, which would prohibit British schools and other agencies from refusing services to people purely because of their sexuality. It seems glaringly obvious, but would this debate be occurring over skin color? The Catholic contingent is concerned about the impact on religious schools and faith-based adoption agencies, which are demanding to be exempt from the law. Desperate for attention but hitting the right note, the Liberal Democrats have piped up, insisting Kelly's "personal beliefs" are incompatible with defending gay rights. Lorely Burt, a member of parliament for Solihull and spokeswoman on equality, called on Kelly to resign immediately, saying, "The government must not water down these proposals. We had always feared that Ruth Kelly's personal beliefs would make her unsuitable to be a champion of gay rights. Unfortunately, these fears have become reality, and she should now stand down." Some hypothetical scenarios are being slung around, especially from the God-bothering bunch. A spokeswoman for Kelly's Department of Communities and Local Government posited an unlikely quandary: "There are issues around Christian B&Bs, where it tends to be Christians that stay there, and some of the religious lobby are saying they would not be happy for a gay couple to stay there." It's not just the holy heterosexuals who'd have to make concessions; it seems that gay bars would have open their doors to straight clients. The rules potentially affect everything from fertility clinics' right to refuse lesbian couples in-vitro treatment to whether travel agents can promote hetero-only holidays. Ben Summerskill of the gay rights group Stonewall pointed out that backing down, particularly over adoption, would have serious consequences.

"It would be playing into the offensive and completely dishonest stereotype that somehow gay people are not safe with children, and the impact that would almost certainly have on the wider gay and lesbian public is [feeling] that the government was stigmatizing gay people for no good reason," Summerskill said. (U.K./

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