joined forces in London on Tuesday to try to stop sweeping
gay rights laws they say will force them to act against
their religious beliefs. They delivered a petition to
the queen, and a group of about 1,000 demonstrators
staged a torchlit protest outside parliament as the
lords discussed the laws.
"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
remain unnamed, told Reuters.
held banners saying "Freedom to Believe" in protest of
the legislation, a cornerstone of the United
Kingdom's efforts to promote equal rights. The
laws would ban discrimination on the basis of
sexuality in the provision of goods and services, in a
similar way to laws banning sex and race
opponents argue the legislation is a major threat to their
freedom of conscience and that they should not be penalized
for acting according to their beliefs.
But gay rights
campaigners say the proposals would simply extend existing
antidiscrimination laws to gays. "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.
Thomas Cordrey of
the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, which organized the
rally, denied the group was homophobic, saying the
regulations did not strike the right balance.
"Christians have no desire to discriminate unjustly on
the grounds of sexual orientation, but they cannot and must
not be forced to actively condone and promote sexual
practices which the Bible teaches are wrong."
known as the Sexual Orientation Regulations, came into
force in Northern Ireland on January 1, but the government
postponed its introduction in England and Wales until
April due to the scale of opposition. It would mean
that hotels could be prosecuted for refusing to
provide rooms for gay couples and parishes obliged to rent
out halls for gay wedding receptions. Equally, gay
bars would not be able to bar straight couples.
experts say the legislation would be a further step to bring
the country in line with other nations that have ruled out
discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
"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, told
Kingdom took a major step toward equal rights in
December 2005 when it introduced civil partnerships
for gay couples, giving them the same rights as
heterosexuals but stopping short of calling the
arrangement a marriage. Since then more than 15,000 couples
have registered, including pop star Elton John and his
partner, David Furnish. (Reuters)
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