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U.K. gay rights
law survives in House of Lords

U.K. gay rights
law survives in House of Lords

Attempts to scrap new laws prohibiting firms in the United Kingdom from discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation were defeated Tuesday night by the House of Lords.

Peers voted 199-68 to reject Lord Morrow's call to reject the Northern Ireland Sexual Orientation Regulations, which came into force in the province January 1 and will be enforced in England and Wales in April.

Lord Morrow told peers, "The regulations make it possible for homosexual activists to sue people who disagree with a homosexual lifestyle because of their religious beliefs. They require religious organizations to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the state." He added, rather ominously, "The regulations threaten to override the conscience and free speech of Christians and others who object to homosexual practice."

The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association welcomed the House of Lords decision to approve the regulations but warned that the battle is far from over.

"While we are very pleased that the Lords sent the Christian agitators packing on this occasion, they haven't gone away," said George Broadhead, secretary of the humanist group. "The regulations are still subject to a judicial review, which will take place in March, and the judge might decide that the regulations are incompatible with the Human Rights Act.

"If that is so, parliament will have to reconsider them. And we are still awaiting the regulations that will apply to England and Wales, which have been delayed until April.

"The religious pressure on the Culture secretary, Ruth Kelly, will be relentless to provide more and more opt-outs for religion. We certainly hope that this result in the House of Lords will stiffen the government's resolve not to weaken the regulations even further with concessions to religion that will render them meaningless."

Approximately 1,000 demonstrators from various religions protested outside parliament on Tuesday night. Strangely, many seemed to think it was an ideal occasion to bring the children along.

The odd crowd was joined by the ever-fiery though somewhat comic reverend Ian Paisley, who told the assemblage, "We're here to say that we're on the Lord's side. Are we really Christians, and will we stand up for Jesus?"

The award for oddness must surely go to Conservative Lord Tebbit, who threw this bon mot into the cauldron of sexuality: "Black is about being. Sexual orientation is about being. And we would not wish to discriminate against people for being black nor on grounds of their sexual orientation. The concerns which are being expressed this evening are primarily about sodomy rather than about sexual orientation, that is, doing, not being."

The Labor Party's Lord Smith of Finsbury, a former cabinet minister and the U.K.'s first openly gay MP, spoke for many when he said, "I am somewhat puzzled by the arguments that have been advanced. It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they [the opponents of the regulations] are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass. And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity." (Stewart Who, U.K.)

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