Secularism

All or nothing

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The sign above would be illegal today under the Race Relations Act. Under last year’s Equality Act, it would also be illegal to deny goods and services to people on the basis of their faith.

After having won this legal protection, why then are religious groups turning round and seeking to deny protection from this type of discrimination to lesbians and gays?

People who would be horrified by racist discrimination or discrimination against a person because of their religion suddenly become all Libertarian when it comes to lesbians and gays. “Why should a hotelier have to go against his conscience and provide a room to a gay couple?” they ask.

“Why should a hotelier have to provide a room to a black couple?” you might ask by means of reply. “That’s different!” they’ll say.

Why is it different?

Let’s be honest. If a homeless man was thrown out of a shelter because he said he was a reborn Christian there would be outrage. Ditto if a women wearing a hijab was told she wasn’t welcome on a bus. Religious groups would likely call for prosecutions and they would get them because the law is on their side.

But now they’re rallying in Wesminster to be allowed to turn away gays and lesbians.

The hypocrisy stinks.

By all means, let them make the faux-Libertarian argument. I’ll go along with the argument that private businesses should be free to discriminate, but (and this is a big BUT) only if they will concede that businesses can be free to discriminate against them. If these religious groups campaign to sacrifice their rights and protections under the law in return for the right to discriminate against gays, then I’m willing to listen.

The campaign by these religious groups has been characterised by a litany of lies and misinformation. They have claimed that schools will be forced to teach gay sex and promote homosexuality, they have claimed that a family-run B&B would have to accept a transsexual couple under their roof, and they have claimed that a Christian-run printing works would be forced to print gay porn.

All false.

Lord Rooker gave answers to all these claims in the House of Lords.

“It would be entirely within the spirit of the regulations for a printing shop run by a Christian to refuse to print fliers promoting gay sex, so long as that printer also refused to print fliers promoting heterosexual sex outside the realm of marriage,” said Lord Rooker. “The regulations are not concerned with what is taught in schools. That is rightly a matter for the Department of Education, Northern Ireland,” he siad.

He also confirmed that it was not the case that a B&B proprietor would be forced to accept a transsexual couple. In any event, the Bill doesn’t cover transsexuals and there are exemptions for the owners of small B&Bs.

Undeterred, the religious lobby continues to peddle these falsehoods, including a Church of England Bishop who reitterated these bogus claims on Sky News at 11:30 this morning.

Other commentators have said that the issues are “complex”. They are not. It boils down to this: If it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, faith, gender, disability, national or ethnic origin and so forth, then it must also be illegal to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Either all groups must be protected or none.

What is certain is that the ring-leaders of this Nuremburg-style rally this evening do not have the suport of the religious mainstream. Leading evangelical Christian service agency, Faithworks, has given its backing to the proposed legislation. Christian think tank Ekklesia says that the “panic and anxiety” over the legislation is a symptom of “the demise of Christendom”.

“The idea that all or even the majority of Christians support the extreme claims and views of many opponents of the fair and reasonable Sexual Orientation Regulations is false”, says Ekklesia

The Muslim Council of Britain has distanced itself from one of the march organisers, Dr Majid Katme, who is an MCB committee member, saying his participation was “political and personal” and offered no comment of its own when interviewed by PlanetOut.com.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a statement last night saying that their support for the rally had been misrepresented in The Daily Mail. They denied any participation or support for the rally and reitterated their anti-discrimination policy.

“The Board of Deputies opposes discrimination on any grounds and recognises that the rights of those within our community and in wider society should not be infringed on the grounds of ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion conviction or for any other similar reason,” said the Board of Deputies in their statement.

So, at the end of the day, what we have here is a group of very motivated and very vocal religious extremists displaying hypocrisy of the highest order and shamelessly lying in an attempt to get their own way.

Polly Toynbee has more on the story in today’s Guardian.

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