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Religious groups win right not to employ gay staff

2 February 2010

Churches, mosques and temples will not be forced by the Equality Bill to employ gay or transsexual workers following a vote in the House of Lords.

Despite protestations by Baroness Royall, leader of the Lords, that three government amendments were not intended to reduce the scope of the exemption for religious groups from the Bill’s provisions, the Lords narrowly voted against them.

One of the amendments would have limited the exemption to religious ministers and staff employed to “promote or represent” the religion or explain its doctrines.

Ministers insisted their aim was only to clarify the Bill, but the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu, argued that if the current law was not defective it did not need to be changed.

The turnout for voting in the Lords was the biggest since the chamber rejected plans to allow terrorist suspects to be detained for up to 42 days without being charged.

Conservative minister Baroness Warsi claimed the government had told the European Commission that the Equality Bill would narrow the exemptions given to religious groups, a claim denied by Baroness Royall.

Harriet Harman, minister for equality, could seek to reverse the defeat in the Commons, but, with a general election approaching, may decide not to.

Andrea Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said that churches needed to be able to structure themselves around their ethos and it was very important that all staff adhered to it.

“Although the government has consistently maintained that the effect of their provisions would not alter the current situation, it is the opinion of many Christian organisations that the proposed government provisions contained within the Equality Bill would have further reduced the freedom of churches.

“We are therefore grateful that the status quo has been maintained and the law has not been narrowed any further. This is a great day for religious liberty in the UK,” she added.

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